2016 Season North American Fatalities


Bob Dill

The following accounts are from newspaper and television reports found on the WWW. Three accounts came from the Wisconsin Snowmobile Fatality Summary - 2015/2016 Season. I investigated three accidents that occurred in Northern Vermont.

This report starts with summaries for the 2016 season and for the four years I have been collecting this data.

  • In the 2016 ice season I was able to find reports on 41 fatalities. 50+ is more typical.

  • This was a short ice season only two incidents in late December and three in early March. January had 13 incidents; February had 20. Five of the incidents were double fatalities. Most likely some of those involved the second person breaking through in an effort to rescue their buddy or child.

  • Warm weather was involved in about 60% of fatalities. Venturing on the ice during or after recent warm weather is an especially important time to know the recent weather history from  weatherunderground.com and to incorporate that knowledge into your ice travel plans. 
  •  A test pole or spud to is an effective way to test the ice for strength and to keep track of changes in strength as the day progresses. Ice claws are generally helpful for getting back on the ice. Life jackets make getting out less frantic and more likely to succeed.  If you can't get out, a life jacket will keep you alive for 45 minutes or more, allowing rescue personal a reasonable amount of time to get to you.  

There were several accidents in which two people died and it is likely that the second person fell through trying to rescue the first victim.  In almost any accident, your first step should to get the attention of people who can call 911 to get professionals on the way.  If you you are still on top of the ice with a cell  phone in a plastic bag and you should call 911 before doing anything else. A test pole or spud will allow to test the ice as you go.   A throw rope is a far better way to rescue a friend than approaching him on the same ice he just fell through. 

  • Ice activity was similar to past years although there were fewer sled crashes this year.  

  • Mode of Travel

    Foot travel is a smaller percentage of the total breakthrough fatalities than 2014. This probably reflects foot travelers being more able to identify dodgy conditions as they move across the ice. Snowmobile and ATV breakthroughs are up, most likely reflecting the warm conditions and widespread dodgy ice. Cars+trucks is down from 2014.

  • Outcomes are a combination of luck and competence. Almost all fatalities, looked at in retrospect, suggest poor decisions by the victim(s). Poor decisions put more importance on luck to stay out of trouble. Often a chain of poor decisions is involved. Having said that, almost all of us that have spent a fair amount of time on the ice have made poor decisions from time to time but we have been lucky. The situations described in the following accounts are those times when luck did not go their way. The accounts are presented here to help the rest of us learn form these tragedies.

  • If all the drowning victims had taken basic ice precautions (life jacket, ice claws, a test pole or drill, throw ropes) most of the victims would have survived. Prudent judgement, especially about the weather and ice history, would have saved most of the rest.

  • High speed snowmobile deaths on lakes would be reduced dramatically by low blood alcohol levels, not riding at night and staying off the throttle when visibility is limited.


This is followed by individual accounts. The bullet points under most accounts include details on weather that probably contributed to the accident as well as what equipment and steps would have resulted in a happier outcome. The amount of information available on the WWW about most of these accients is limited. In some cases I have speculated a bit on what probably happened based on similar past accidents. 



December 27, 2015, Glen Loch Flowage


At around 2:40 PM two fishermen (33 and 76) fell through the ice. It appears the younger man broke through and the other went to his assistance. One victim was found submerged and one was partially in the water. Rescue was called by a resident who heard the cries for help. A canoe was used by a resident in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the victims. The Flowage is a 39 acre pond with a maximum depth of 17 ft. The west side of the Flowage was open water. A resident reported that 8 or 9 people were fishing the day before the accident. He said the ice came and went as the weather changed. The temperature record showed that it may have caught on the 19th when it got to 10 degrees. It then warmed to near or above freezing through the 27th.

  • If they had had lifejackets they are likely to have survived until the rescue squad could have gotten to them.

  • If they had a test pole or spud they probably would have found the dodgy ice without falling through.

  • Ice claws would have made getting out easier.

  • A throw rope would have made rescue by the second person more likely to be successful and less likely to result in the second person falling through.

  • Paying more attention to the weather history might have led them to decide to not go fishing on ice that have not been below freezing for a week.

  • Most travel on ice that has seen a prolonged thaw is done later in the season after the ice has thickened. When it is thin and partially thawed it is particularly prone to being weak. Also, while the the sun is not any where near as strong in the fall as in the spring it can still contribute significantly to internal melting of the ice at crystal boundaries which is the main weakening mechanism on any ice.


 December 30, 2015, Grand Forks BC, Kettle River

A man was seen clinging to the ice in the river.  The RCMP was called.  The victim lost his grip on the ice after they arrived.  His body was recovered in 5.6 meters of water near the hole where he broke through.  The victim was apparently crossing the river on the ice. 

The ice had a thin snow cover (inch or so?). The river current was apparently slow as the victim did not drift much in spite of the considerable water depth.  The ice appeared to be thin in the accident scene image.  The recovery team was able to break the ice up to look for the body.  Ice more than a couple of inches thick would have been difficult to break. The weather in Spokane (about 100 miles south) had been below (but near) freezing since the middle of December with the last week before the accident averaging in the low 20's for the 6 days running up to the accident. 

Rivers are especially tricky. Any snow cover insulates the ice and slows its growth. Even a slow current makes the river water turbulent. This turbulence breaks up the convectively stable layer that exists under ice on lakes.  This allows warmer water to come into direct contact with  the bottom of the ice sheet.  Snow also dampens the cracking noise that is a warning sign that the ice is thin. 


January 9, 2016 (Saturday). Brocton MA, Un-named pond.


A 12 year old boy and a 9 year old friend (along with a couple of other friends) were playing near an ice covered pond and decided to climb the fence that goes around the pond. The 12 and 9 year olds dared each other to go on the ice and both fell through. 911 was called by a good Samaritan. Rescue arrived promptly and were able to find the submerged victim fairly quickly . He survived for about a month after the accident.

  • The weather history suggests that the pond froze on the 5th and average temperatures stayed near freezing until the 9th. The day of the tragedy started above freezing and reached 57 degrees.

  • Impulse is at the root of many ice fatalities.

  • This ice was thin and warm. It lacked the cracking noises that cold thin ice would have had.




January 12, 2016 (Tuesday, 8 PM ), Pond at Bigelow Hollow State Park, Union, CT.

An 18 year old woman was riding in a car driven by a 20 year old man. There were two other passengers about the same age. They drove onto an ice covered pond in the park at around 8PM. The park was closed at the time. About 50 yards from shore the car broke through. Rescue personnel retrieved everyone from the water. Everyone survived but the 18 year old woman.

The weather was quite warm in late December (ave temps in the 50's and 60's). It got cold enough to freeze the pond around January 4th to 6th. Average temperatures held near freezing for the next couple days before rising to a peak of 61 degrees on the 10th.


  • It is possible that the relatively cold weather on the 11th and 12th led them to believe that the ice had recovered from the warm spell.


January 14, 2016 (Thursday, 4:30 PM), Parker CO, retention pond

Three teenage boys went out on an ice covered pond and broke through in spite of 'Stay Off the Ice' signs. One (age 16) died after being submerged for 35 minutes. A second boy died (also 16) 11 days later. The third boy survived.

The weather history suggests the pond froze and thickened in late December. There was another cold dip from the January 8th to the 10th however the rest of the days averaged near or above freezing with high temps mostly in the mid to high 40's It appeared that trace amounts of snow fell in both cold spells which probably would have created small grain ice which weakens faster when exposed to solar heating. The ice appeared to be a bit more than two inches thick. It had a snow ice layer on top which absorbs sunlight more strongly than black ice.

  • It looks like impulse and warm temperatures contributed to the accident.


January 16, 2016 (Saturday), Johnson County, IN,

A 43 year old man fell through thin ice on a pond on family property. The accident probably happened during daylight. It was thought that the victim was trying to save some family dogs. The pond has a fountain, or aerator about 50 feet off shore. A news article picture showed what appeared to be black ice with a little frost on the surface. It looks like the ice caught on the 13th or, maybe, on he 11th. The 14th had a high temperature of 50, the 15th averaged 39 and the 16th averaged 38. The warm weather probably contributed to the ice being thin and weak.

  • Dogs breaking through thin ice results in many human deaths. While it is tragic to loose a pet, loosing a spouse has a far bigger effect on those having to deal with the consequences. If your pet falls through the ice, call 911. They will be happy to rescue your pet and are much more likely to be successful than you will. Moreover, if you are on the ice when Rescue arrives they will come after you first, reducing the chances that your pet will survive. Keeping your pet on a leash when near potentially weak ice will eliminate most of the risk. Making a firm decision ahead of time to stay off the ice and to call professionals will reduce the strong impulse to try to save your pet in spite of substantial risk that you will die in the process. Your pet is more likely to survive if you stay on shore and guide rescue personnel to the accident scene.


January 24, 2016, Madison IL, Pond near Chousteau Island

A 54 year old man was flying a drone with his son. It crashed onto an ice covered pond on the Mississippi River floodplain. The man fell through while he walked across the ice.

The January temperatures before the 24th averaged around freezing with warm spells around the 8th, 12th and 15th with cold spells around the 10th and 18th. Thaw weakening might have been a factor.

  • Anytime someone is considering going on ice they do not know well they should be properly equipped to do so.


January 27, 2016, (Wednesday Afternoon), Schroon Lake NY

A 66 year old man fell through thin ice on Scroon Lake while walking with snowshoes. It looks like the lake partially or completely caught on the 14th or in a week long cold weather period starting on the 18th.   Snow fell in the cold spell (18th to 25th) which might have slowed down ice growth.  It warmed to 42 degrees on the 26th and it stayed above freezing until the accident when it was 38 degrees.The newspaper article said the victim fell through an unfrozen part of the lake. Schroon is a pretty big lake and is likely to have hazards like folded ridges and may have had some thin, frozen new ice holes.

  • A lifejacket, test poles and ice claws probably would have saved the day.

  • Snow over thin ice can result in irregular ice thickness

  • Snowshoes may allow walking onto ice that is too thin to get back on if you fall through.


January 29, 2016 (Friday daytime) Muncie IN, Private pond

A 70 year old man went fishing on a private pond and fell through the ice and drowned. Rescue was called by a local resident who spotted his gear but not the fisherman. The ice was reported to be about 2” thick. Over the six days running up to the accident there had been 16 thaw degree days with two significant wind events.

  • A lifejacket and ice claws probably would have changed the outcome. A test pole or spud could have identified thin or thaw weakened ice.


January 29, 2016, (Friday, 11:30 PM), Highlands East Township, ONT, Dark Lake.

Four people were riding two sleds on Dark Lake when they broke through. A 53 year old man drowned. See the comments in the next accident about possible ice hazards.


January 30, 1016 (Saturday, 1AM), Georgian Bay Township, ONT, Go Home Lake

Two men (aged 22 and 25) were riding a sled on Go Home Lake on what was described as unstable ice. The sled crashed and both men died. The weather was near but below freezing so temperature does not appear to be a factor. As you can see in the picture of Go Home Lake and Dark Lake there are many narrow places on lakes in the Georgian Bay area. The narrow areas may have sufficient flow to create thin ice of open areas. Also, lakes feed into each other, often with short connections. This may create thin ice at inlets and outlet where the warmer, deeper water from upstream is brought in contact with the bottom of the ice sheet.  Most years one to three people die on ice thinned by narrows.


January 30, 2016, Saturday 6:57 PM (after dark) , Lake Solberg Winchester WI

A 55 year old woman was riding a sled on Lake Solberg when she hit a large area of water and slush on the ice. It appeared that she accelerated rapidly. She ran into the shore at high speed. Her Blood Alcohol Concentration was 0.16.

  • Slush filled puddles are pretty common on ice with a thick snow layer. Sometimes the whole lake develops a  slush layer.

  • The victim may have gotten on the throttle in an attempt to 'water skip' over what she thought was was open water.

  • This is the most common fatal accident scenario involving frozen lakes and snow machines (elevated BAC, darkness, going fast, hitting the shore).


January 30, 2016; (Saturday, mid afternoon), Mansfield MA; Mill Pond

A 23 year old missing man was found drowned in Mill Pond. The pond was about 10 feet deep where the victim was found. The temperatures for the preceding month averaged 30 degrees. There were 13 freezing degree days in the five days running up to the accident. That is enough to make less than an inch of ice.

  • This looks like walking on the ice might have been an impulse decision. A life jacket, ice claws and some sort of test pole would improve the odds.


February 1, 2016 (Sunday 10:37 AM), Highland Township MI: Alderman Lake


A father took his 4 year old son fishing on Alderman Lake. His son was getting cold so they headed to shore and the broke through about eight feet from shore. Both drowned.


  • Average temperatures on the three days leading up to the accident were in the upper 30's to mid 40's. Peak temps were 48, 51 and 45 degrees. The warm temperatures are likely to have contributed to the weak ice.

  • A group of teen agers in Highland TWP are lobbying the state legislature to require that life jackets be required for all forms of water for children under 12 with their Jackets for Jackson campaign.

  • There is a pretty good chance they would have survived if they had life jackets on.

  • It is common with new ice to find thin ice or open holes close to shoreline swamps. Shore line ridges also can create weak ice or open water.

  • http://www.hometownlife.com/story/news/local/milford/2016/04/12/family-friends-launch-jackets-jackson/82936500/


February 1, 2016, Leon IA, Little River Lake, February 1, 2016, about 2PM

A father and son (ages 63 and 33) were fishing when they fell through ice so weak that the rescue personnel could not walk or crawl on the ice. The first hundred or so feet from shore was stronger. This delayed the rescue for several hours while a dive team was put together.

  • The temperatures for the week before the accident averaged above freezing. There was a fair amount of sunny weather as well. The ice probably was weak from both thickness loss and partial thawing.

  • The night before the accident got a little below freezing which would have hardened up the ice in the morning. It appears the men stayed out fishing until the ice got too weak to hold them.

  • Life jackets might have allowed one or both of them to get close enough to shore to get to ice that would hold them. Ice claws would have made clawing through the ice much easier. Throw ropes might have allowed the second fisherman to throw a rope to the first victim, avoiding having to walk up to the edge of the hole.


February 5, 2016, (Friday, time unknown), Tay Twp, Georgian Bay ONT, near Victoria Harbor.

Four men on 2 sleds were traveling together. One of the sleds broke through. A 48 year old man from the other sled attempted to help and also broke through. He did not survive. The other three made it to shore. One of the sled operators had charges brought for impaired operation.

  • Life jackets, throw ropes and ice claws would have probably changed the outcome.


February 6, 2016 (Saturday, about 6:30 PM), Murdock River, Alban, ONT

A 42 year old man was a doing a radar run (speed run) with his snow machine. A 29 year old woman was standing near a shanty. She was thought to be a spectator. She and the rider were both killed.

  • Speed runs need to be organized events with experienced people managing the significant risks to the riders, spectators and innocent by-standers.

  • Speed work should never be done when visibility is limited. The accident occurred an hour after sunset.

  • And then there was the one year old child who was injured in the crash (thankfully not seriously)




February 9, 2016 (Tuesday, 7:35 PM), Pequawket Pond, North Conway NH

A 23 year old man fell through the ice while walking on the ice (taking a shortcut?). The ice was reported to be two inches thick. The breakthrough took place about 80 feet from shore. It was reported that there was some current in that area. It does not take much current to create variable ice thickness.

A man attempted to rescue the victim with a branch but broke through. He knew how to self rescue and he saved himself.

  • The temperatures were below freezing from Jan 31 though Feb 9th (about 60 FDD). However it snowed several inches during this period which would have insulated the ice, significantly slowing growth. The average temperature for the whole month of January was 32 degrees suggesting that there was either no ice or relatively little ice growth during that period.

  • He also might have fallen through at a ridge.

  • A life jacket, or a throw rope or ice claws would have probably saved the day. The real problem is going going on ice without being prepared for testing he ice and rescue tools.

  • The Conway Daily Sun did a particularly good job of reporting this accident. http://www.conwaydailysun.com/newsx/local-news/124597-local-man-falls-through-ice-dies-in-pequawket-pond

  • Currents in lakes are bad news, especially if the recent or present weather is warm or if there is snow on the ice..

  • Taking short cuts across ponds without the right equipment is a bad idea, especially after dark.

 February 11, 2015, Lake Simco, Ontario

A 66 year old man, riding an ATV, broke through and drowned.  It was attributed to inconsistent ice which was blamed on unusual amounts of warm weather.  

Riding at night is often risky.  A life jacket and ice claws would have improved the odds of survival. 

February 13, 2016 (Saturday, 8 PM), Crystal Lake , Montcalm Co, MI

Shortly after a fireworks display that was part of a winter festival, a 52 year old man drove an off road vehicle with three passengers across frozen Crystal Lake. The vehicle went into a slide that led to a fenced hole that was being used for a cold water dip. The two back seat passengers were able to escape but the man and a 25 year old woman were not able to get out of the vehicle. Bystanders used a truck and strap to pull the vehicle part way out. The man died the night of the accident and the woman passed away a week later.

  • I do not know details about the ORV, its  flotation time and other details that may have affected the outcome. It is likely that it sank quickly. 

  • Driving on the ice at night is often high risk.

  • Cutting big holes in the ice is always tricky. We sometimes make them for self rescue practice. We try to pick places that are unlikely to have people around (especially at night) and we mark hole with rope or plastic fencing. We also attach lines to the ice pieces we have shoved under the ice so we can full the hole when we leave (the pieces freeze in place enough for walking on in a day or so in cold weather).

  • Although the details are not clear , it sounds like the driver was going too fast for the conditions (ice and darkness)

  • Chains, especially aggressive ones like 'V Bar' chains allow much more resistant to sliding and shorter stopping distances.

  • http://www.amazon.com/QuadBoss-V-Bar-Tire-Chain-356-0821/dp/B000WKF12U/ref=sr_1_2?s=automotive&ie=UTF8&qid=1463753045&sr=1-2


February 13, 2016 (Saturday 3:30PM) Lake Massabesic, Grafton NH

A man (41) with his son riding in the front seat of his snowmobile were riding near the edge of Lake Massabesic when they hit a rock at the shoreline. The sled accelerated and threw him into other rocks. The machine flew 72 feet and then came to rest in a brush lined creek. The father is reported to have thrown his son off the sled at the last second before the crash. The boy survived.


February 13, 2016 (Saturday about 7 PM), Lake Champlain, West Swanton  VT

A 23 year old man was fishing in a shanty with a couple of friends. At about 7 PM he left the shanty after telling his friends he was going to drive his pickup truck to the west shore of the lake. He drove into a pressure ridge in water that was 10.4 feet deep. The tail of the truck hung on the ice. He was able to escape. The temperature at the time was -13 and the wind on land was gusting to the upper teens (mph). It was most likely windier on the lake. Visibility was bad from blowing snow. His body was found about 100 to 150 yards from the truck. The accident took place about a mile from the east and west shores and several miles from north and south shores.

  • This should dispel the notion that once you are out of the water your problems are over.

  • Over the past four years there has usually been one or two hypothermia fatalities per year.

  • In the light of day the ridge would have been more visible. It turns out the ridge terminated about 1/8 of a mile north and ¼ mile west of the accident.  



February 14, 2016 (Sunday, 9PM), Lake Geneva WI

A 53 year old man drove his sled into an area of open water on Lake Geneva.

  • A flotation suit or life jacket and ice claws would have improved the odds considerably.

  • Lake Geneva often freezes in sections, leaving open water over some deeper areas.

  • Driving into open water at night is a source of regular fatalities. Even in the daytime, open water can be hard to spot.



February 17 (Tuesday, about 2 PM), Shannon Lake, Essex IL

An 85 year old man was riding an ATV about 20 feet from the shore of Shannon Lake when he broke through. He was unable to self rescue.

  • It looks like the lake froze on about Jan 12 or, alternatively on Jan 17 or maybe as late as about February 9. From Jan 24 to February 8 temperatures were almost always above freezing. It was cold from the 9th to the 17th. There was an inch or so of snow on the ice from three light snow events. The snow probably reduced ice growth during the cold spell.


  • Or he might have driven the vehicle over a folded ridge that was obscured by snow.
  • His age and not having flotation or ice claws made survival unlikely.


February 19, 2016, Kings County NS, Black River Lake

A 26 year old man riding a snowmobile broke through the ice.  It was his first outing on a recently acquired sled.  There were three warm spells in February before the accident.   The final one lasted for about 3 days and had peak temperatures in the low 50's.  The warm weather would have made the ridges active .  The wind gusted to the upper 30 mph range during this period.  This might have created wind holes or melted ridge covers.  

The RCMP recommended that snowmobile riders wear life jackets if they go out on frozen lakes....good advice for anyone who does so. 


February 19, 2016 (3:20 PM) Private pond, Arbela, MO

A 75 year old woman and her husband were fishing on a pond on their property. They both fell through. He was able to self rescue and to call 911. The ice was reported to be about 2” thick.

  • The day was full sun, at 40.5 latitude and late February. The temperature at the time of the accident was 64 degrees and crossed 60 degrees at 8 AM. It was windy with several hours averaging in the high 20's-low30's with a peak gust of 45 mph. The previous day peaked at 55 degrees and was clear for most of the day.

  • It is hard to understand why someone would choose to go fishing on 2” ice in such sunny, warm and windy conditions.


February 20 2016 (Saturday 7:53 AM) Skunk Creek Bay, Ft Berthold Reservation, ND

A man riding a four wheeler with a friend broke through. Two bystanders fell through trying to rescue the two men. They were able to self rescue and to get to the driver. The passenger had gotten under the ice and they were not able to save him.

  • The weather for the 7 days running up to the accident averaged above freezing. There almost certainly were active ridges.

  • Live jackets and ice claws would have saved the day. Throw ropes could have made it less likely the bystanders would have fallen through.


February 19, 2016 (Friday, Evening) Leesburg Quarry, Leesburg IN

Two fishermen are believed to have gone fishing on Friday night (the 19th). Officers found fishing equipment next to a large hole in the ice on Sunday A Conservation Officers dive team was able to recover two bodies by 11:00AM Monday. A remote submersible camera was used to find the victims. Their ages were 41 and 29.

It was speculated that one of the men fell through and the other died trying to rescue his friend.

  • It reached over 60 degrees on the 19th and 20th.. It was also quite windy for those two days.

  • Life jackets and (maybe) ice claws would have probably saved the day. A throw rope would have given the second fisherman a better chance at getting his buddy back on the ice without falling through himself.


February 26, 2016 (Friday,10:45 PM), Lake Namakagon, WI

A 54 old man was riding his 800 cc sled on Lake Namakagon when he left the marked snowmobile trail and hit an unoccupied, parked truck. Speed, alcohol and darkness were involved.


February 28, 2016 (Sunday about 4:30 PM), West Branch of Forest Preserve, Bartlett IL

A 21 year old man attempted to walk across an ice covered lake in the Preserve. Forest Preserve officers attempted to rescue the man but could not get close enough to him. The officers shouted instructions but the man did not follow them. He broke through and managed to get back onto the ice.

The officers told him to stay put until rescue personnel arrived. He started to roll across the ice toward open water in spite of the officers shouting that he was rolling in the wrong direction. He fell in again. Rescuers located the man in about an hour.

  • Temperatures had been above freezing for the 12 days running up to the accident. On the day of the accident it reached 62 degrees.


March 6, 2016 (Sunday, Rescue called about 2:30 AM) Riker Pond, Groton VT

A 31 year old man went for a snowmobile cruse around Riker Pond hoping to see some northern lights. Unfortunately the north end of the pond had considerable open water and thin ice. He broke through and was not able to self rescue.

  • The open water was associated warm water from larger Lake Groton about half a mile upstream of Ricker Pond. 

  • This was a warmer than normal winter but still mostly below freezing and snow was lighter than usual. Neither probably had much to do with the accident. A big storm on February 24th and 25th dumped at least 2-1/2" of rain over the mountains of Northern Vermont. The resultant flooding took the ice out of most streams and rivers. It probably also pushed a lot of deeper/warmer water out of Lake Groton into the north end of Riker Pond.

  • This is another example of the value of life jackets or flotation suits for snowmobile riders who ride on lake ice. There is a good chance that if the victim had flotation a he would have survived. Ice claws make getting back on the ice easier and more certain.




March 7, 2016 (Monday, 8:30 PM), Lake Megunticook, Lincolnville ME

A 20 year old man was walking on the ice on Lake Megunticook with some friends when he disappeared. There was no mention of hearing cries for help by the victim. His body was recovered by a dive team the next day. The lake It is complex with many islands. It was reported to have areas of open water when the accident occurred.

  • The temperatures for the 15 days before the accident averaged slightly below freezing. The March sun can dump a lot of energy (heat) into the ice that is not dependent on temperature.

  • One of the video reports shows the Warden Service airboat easily breaking through the ice.

  • People without ice knowledge, life jackets, test poles, ice claws and throw ropes should stay off the ice.


March 9, 2016 (Wednesday, about 1 PM), Shelburne Pond, Shelburne VT

A 67 year old man went fishing on Tuesday. At the access area he had a conversation with a game warden who strongly recommended that he stay off the ice as it had been warm and sunny for the previous two days. The fisherman offered assurances that he had been ice fishing all his life and he had good ice skills. The next day the same game warden visited the access in the early afternoon and found the fisherman's truck in the parking lot and could see fishing gear near a hole. He also spotted what looked like a foot. The warden ventured out onto the ice with ice claws and a flotation collar. He walked until his feet caused a little shifting in the ice. He decided to continue and walked until he fell through. He had to swim back roughly 100 feet before he got to ice he could get out on. At some point he was able to use his radio to call for help. It took him about 30 minutes to get back to shore.

A dive team recovered the body of the fisherman.

  • The weather has been reasonably cool until Saturday. We skated on nearby Lake Champlain for the last time on Sunday. The sun came out from behind the clouds about noon and quickly softened the ice surface. The temperatures never got below freezing until after the accident.

  • The predawn temperature on Wednesday the 9th was about 50 degrees. It rose to 65 by the time the Warden fell through. It was windy from the south (average mph in the upper teens) and the day was overcast.

  • The ice on the pond froze in January with snow falling on the water. As a result most of the pond ice had a small grain size (Type S2). S2 ice is particularly prone to weakening in thaw conditions, especially when strong sunlight is involved.

  • It is often not recognized that shallow ponds generally loose their ice well before deeper lakes do even though the lake caught much latter in the ice season.

  • It has been my experience that fishermen often do not like suggestions that ice they are fishing on might be dodgy. 


March 12, 2016 (Sunday), Union Falls Pond, Franklin NY

A 59 year old fisherman drove his Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) on the ice on Union Falls Pond. He broke through and was successful at getting to a seasonal cabin on the edge of the pond. The next day, rescue personnel followed his tracks from the partially submerged UTV to the cabin. He was found in a state of severe hypothermia. He was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital.

  • The temperatures for the six days leading up to the accident had an average temperature of 41.5 degrees and four days with high temperatures in the 50's and 60's. The overall ice season got a late start and was not as cold as typical.

  • The Pond has the Seranac River running through it. The river also runs through a lake just up stream from Union Falls Pond. These factors might have resulted in open areas or thin ice.

  • Traveling with a friend and having fire starting equipment and skills would significantly improve the odds for people who get cold far from home.