North American Ice Fatalities-February 2013

This is the forth of five pages on fatalities during 2013 ice season .  See the first page for an introduction and summary of this report



February 1, 2013-Elysian MN:  A fisherman, aged 72, drove his truck onto Elysian Lake where the truck broke through.  He was not able to exit the vehicle. 

He was meeting friends to fish and drove out onto the lake before they arrived.  When the friends showed up they saw a hole with tracks leading to it, they called 911.

Contributing factors and comments:

  • The temperatures from six to three days before the accident sat at freezing, most likely with a snow cover.  This has been found to weaken an ice sheet.  There were three other thaws in January. The two days before the incident averaged in the low teens but any snow cover would insulate the ice. 
  • At pick up truck weights it can take a while for ice to recover its strength after a thaw.

  • Another possibility is there was an along-shore ridge.  
  • As Dr Giesbrecht points out, by far the best way to survive a car or truck breaking through is to go out the window before it sinks (you typically have 60 to 120 seconds  for cars but probably less for a truck).  Knowing the procedure (seatbelts- windows- children-out) and practicing it  ahead of time  significantly improves your odds of getting out the window before the vehicle sinks. 


The channel between Priest and Halstead's Bays. 

February 2, 2013-Lake Minnetonka WI:  A 31 year old man took his 87 year old grandmother for a drive on the ice on Lake Minnetonka. He had been ice fishing for the first time a few days before.   He drove under a bridge and broke through the ice in 8-10 feet of water.  He called 911 from the car.  It took rescue personel 6 minutes to get to the bridge but they had to call a dive team go to be able to work under the water.  They recovered both people in a little less than an hour.  The victims were taken to the hospital but did not survive.

Contributing factors and comments:

  •  I can say from personal experience and observation of others that  it is common to be overconfident when you are new to ice.  This often results in a few dangerous mistakes.  Good luck saves most of us but bad luck takes a few.  Rather than depending on luck, it is especially important to be extra cautious and well prepared in your first year or two on the ice.  
  • Taking people onto the ice who can't fend for themselves is always a bad idea.
  • Ice under bridges is always thinner  or open.   All but one of the 15 vehicles that had broken through the ice on Lake Minnetonka by February 2 were in channels or, maybe, in pressure ridges. (See the January 22 report for more on this).  The sheriff's department was having a hard time getting everyone to heed their numerous warnings and signs about dodgy ice this year.
  • As Dr Giesbrecht points out, if you find yourself in a car in the water: "If you touch your cell phone, you will probably die."(1)   You have a minute or two to get your seatbelts off, get the windows open and get out before the car sinks.  Realistically,  you need to know this ahead of time.
  • Another newspaper account:  Startribune      

(1) Link to Dr Giesbrecht's FAQ's webpage on Vehicles Sinking in Water (about half way down the page)


February 3, 2013-Clinton, WI:  A 17 year old Amish boy fell into an ice block cutting pond while he waited for others to deliver a load of ice blocks.  It was reported there was lots of open water or thin ice on the pond.  Rescue response was slow as there was no phone nearby and the pond was hard to access from the road.

Contributing Factors and comments:

  • It is easier than you might think to step onto open water or thin ice.
  • A life jacket and/or ice claws would probably have changed the outcome.
  • Having two people at the site is always a good idea. With two or more people present, a throw rope is an important rescue tool.


February 9, 2013-Atlantic, IA:  A lone fisherman (62) fell through the ice on a private pond in a gravel pit.

Contributing Factors and comments:

  • The day of the accident (Saturday) it hit 45˚ and was sunny and windy resulting in excellent thawing conditions.  On the previous Tuesday and Wednesday it was sunny, windy and even a little warmer.  Thursday and Friday averaged 32 degrees so the ice did not refreeze significantly.  That is on top of three big thaws in January.

  • Ice on shallow ponds tends to melt sooner than on deeper lakes.  This is largely driven by the stronger sun in late winter which warms the bottom sediments and the shallow water in these ponds.  Since there is a lower thickness of water to absorb the heat from the sun, the water warms more quickly.
  • A life-jacket and ice claws probably would have changed the outcome.


February 10, 2013-Columbus OH:  A five year old boy broke through the ice on a pond in a housing complex late in the afternoon.  Two Good Samaritans made a heroic effort to try to rescue the boy.  The boy and one of the Good Samaritans drowned..

Contributing Factors and comments: 

  • The close proximity of the ice to many homes obviously increases the risk for children living there.  Many kids are attracted to ice and sometimes they do not make the best decisions about how strong it is.
  • Attempting an impromptu rescue is difficult and dangerous.  The advice from the Rescue community is to call them and stay off the ice.  When there is a child in the water it is easy to see why that advice is not always heeded.
  • Neither of the Good Samaritans could swim and even if they could nobody can swim very far in water this cold, especially if you are thrashing through weak ice.  Anyone going out should know they have a good chance of dying.  Rather than going out, they should make sure 911 has been called and stay on shore to guide rescue personel to the victim.  
  • The MN DNR Ice Saftey website has a good description of what to do while you wait for rescue personel to show up ("Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go")
  • If you can find a life-jacket and a boat, or rope (or garden hose or extension chords) and some back up people, a shore mounted rescue is be more likely to succeed.
  • There had been a major thaw in late January and a couple smaller ones in early February.  It reached 48 degrees the day of the accident. 


St Croix River near the Allen S King generating station

February 16, 2013-Bayport MN:  A 22 year old snowmobiler fell through the ice on the partially open St Croix River after passing several THIN ICE signs.  He was recovered from the water after about 20 minutes.  He was floating but not responsive.  

Contributing Factors and comments:

  • A life-jacket or flotation type snowmobile suit would have very likely changed the outcome as rescue personnel were able to get to the scene promptly.
  • Bayport did not have the big January thaws that many other parts of the Midwest had so the ice should have been closer to typical mid-February conditions.

The cooling system for the 588 MW coal powered generating plant

  • The generating plant appears to use cooling towers rather than river water for it's main cooling load although it may still dump enough heat into the river to locally warm it.  This area is known to have thin ice and was signed accordingly. 


February 16, 2013, St Croix Scenic Waterway, WI/MN: A 44 year old snowmobiler riding with several friends drove into a patch of open water with a high current velocity.    He was swept under the ice and the body was not recovered until after the ice was gone(64 days).  The water was roughly 3 feet deep but had a four mph current.  A four mph current will generate well over 100 lb of force on a person standing in waist deep water.  Four mph  is 6 ft/second so it may take only a couple seconds to be swept under the ice.  A life jacket would probably be of little value in this circumstance although in slower current speeds it could be effective.   The river flow rate at nearby St Croix Falls was 1800 cubic feet a second (2000 cfs is the median daily statistic for the past 107 years).

Comment:  The obvious message is:  stay off ice over rapidly moving water. 


 February 17, 2013- Baysville Ontario:  Four snowmobilers were headed back to their cottage when all of them drove into open water in or near The Narrows  2 miles north of Baysville at about midnight.  Three of them were able to self rescue by accelerating hard when they realized they were in trouble.  They made it to near the shore before slowing and sinking.  The forth rider (age 48) broke through immediately.  He drowned.  It is reported that they were unfamiliar with the area and that they took a wrong turn on their trip. The forth rider was apparently not an experienced snow machine rider.  

The purple marker is where they had dinner, They got gas near the yellow marker.  The green marker was their destination in Dorset.  The red marker is where the accident took place. 

The Narrows is about 2 miles north of Baysville.  It is about 75 feet across and the South Branch of the Muskoka River flows through it. It is not clear whether the group got on the lake south of the Narrows or got on to the north and turned the wrong way. 

 The area near the Narrows rarely freezes over but February 17 was in the midst of an especially cold period.  This put a thin layer of ice with a dusting of snow on the open water. The temperature at the time of the accident was about -11 degrees F.  

Contributing Factors and comments:

  • The riders were unfamiliar with the area and, if they had local knowledge about problems at the Narrows they did not apply it properly. They also may have been attempting to take a route on the lake to get back to Dorset.

Google maps shows four places called 'Narrows' on the Lake of Bays.  This might have contributed to confusion about where they were relative to known hazards.  The yellow marker is the Baysville Narrows at the outlet dam for the lake.  The Red Marker is where the accident took place and is called 'The Narrows'. The green marker is another place called 'The Narrows' and the Blue marker is the Dorset Narrows and is where the Muskoko River enters the lake. 

  •   Riding on ice at night is always high risk and it makes rescue more difficult. 
  • Alcohol was involved. It has a much larger negative effect on outcomes than many people realize.  
  • Life Jackets or, better yet, flotation type snowmobile suits along with ice claws, throw ropes and flashlights would have likely changed the outcome.
  • Based on the OFSC Interactive Trail Guide  there are trails between Baysville and Dorset.  The most direct one does not cross the Lake of Bays.

The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC)  has build an excellent map of snowmobile trails all over Ontario.

 Note: The target winter flow through the narrows where the accident occurred is 17m3/second and the depth is roughly 20 ft.  This suggests a flow velocity of about 0.5 ft/second which is in the domain of rivers rather than lakes.  The flow velocity and underwater topography are sufficient to disrupt the 1-2 foot thick transition layer that protects ice sheets on lakes from the warmer water temperatures deeper in the lake. The deep water is typically more like 34 to 37 degrees and when it is brought to the surface it will either keep the area open or, if it is cold enough to have ice, keep it thinner than the nearby areas with flow speeds that are more typical of lakes.


February 20, 2013-Bayfield WI:  Around 9:30 PM two snowmobilers on one sled (ages 30 and 38) left Bayfield.  They didn't arrive at their destination and were found the next day near the  partially submerged snowmobile just south of Madeline Island.  It is thought that one man went into the water when the sled partially broke through.  A helmet and gloves of one of the riders was found on the ice suggesting that he was on the ice but tried to rescue his friend and ended up in the water himself.

Contributing Factors

  • This is an area of big ice surrounded by the bigger and deeper unfrozen water of Lake Superior.
  • The following MODIS three satellite images show that the  the South Channel between Madeline Island and Long Island was intermittently open, probably depending mostly on wind direction.   On the day of the accident there was open water on the southwest end of Madeline Island.

February 3, 2013:  The open water in the south channel between Madeline Island and Long Island that may have contributed to the January 26th incident is still there. 

On February 17th it looks like ice has formed on or blown into the channel between Long Island and the south end of Madeline Island.  Ice in these circumstances is likely to have leads, open areas and/or thin ice. 

February 20th: the ice has blown back out of the channel between Madaline Island and Long Island. 

  • The ice details visible at the resolution of these pictures may or may not relate to what happened at the accident site.  It is likely that there were pressure ridges and large crack systems (leads) in the ice in the channel that can't be seen here.  
  • Flotation snowmobile suits or life jackets and ice claws probably would have saved the day. 
  • Daylight probably would have changed the outcome. 


Red marker at Hawkes Bay

February 21, 2013-Hawkes Bay, NFL:  Three wildlife officers were on patrol south of Hawkes Bay  when they all broke through the ice.  Some accounts say they were on snowmobiles some say they were walking.   Two officers were able to self rescue and they were unable to find the third officer.  His body was recovered by divers late the next day.

Contributing Factors and comments: 

  • The temperatures during the week before the accident averaged a couple degrees below freezing.  
  • Flotation suits or life jackets and ice claws make it much more likely someone will be able to get back onto the ice.  The suits are the best but if they are not acceptable for some reason, inflatable lifejackets are compact and effective.  Throw ropes are very helpful for rescuing others.


February 26, 2013-Bloomingdale NJ:  Two fishermen went out on private Lake Iosco about 9AM.  At 12:05 PM a 911 call came in that there were calls for help coming from the lake.  Three minutes later a second call came in indicating that two people were in the water.  Probably, after the first person went through the other one tried to rescue him.    The fishermen were both in the water about 150 yards from shore.  One of the fishermen (age 52) spent about 10 minutes completely submerged.  Resuscitation efforts were not successful.  The second fisherman (49) was able to keep his head above the surface and was rescued.  He was initially listed in critical condition but was released from the hospital the next day.    

Contributing Factors and comments:

  • This is another example of the value of a life-jacket which will keep a victim on the surface until help arrives.  Most people will survive an hour or more in a life jacket but, without one, their ability to swim and grasp only lasts a few minutes.  Rescue usually takes from 15 to 45 minutes to get to a victim on the ice. More...
  • A throw rope might have allowed the other man to rescue the first person without having to get close to him and the weak ice near him.
  • High temperatures for the past week averaged 40 degrees, the days are getting long, the sun angle and strength are significantly higher than early winter.

Temperatures for the previous couple weeks

Temperatures over the course of the day

  • The overnight temperature dipped to 26˚: enough to harden the surface but not cold enough for long enough to fully solidify the thawed ice sheet.  It probably felt solid at 9:00 but by noon the hard surface ice had thawed leaving the whole sheet weakened from many days of thawing.
  • Click here for a report and picture of the hole (Click on the picture for an enlarged view). 
  • The thickness of blocks on the ice sheet look like 2 to 3" (not very much for what looks like warm  ice).  There is obvious open water in the background.  




Click here for March and April incidents .