Fatalities on North American Ice: January 1 through January 19, 2014

LaCross, WI, January 1, 2014, 1:30 AM: 

A woman (age 21) drove off Norplex Drive (Jackson St on the map) onto snow covered ground and down a 40 foot bank onto the ice on a small section of the Mississippi River known as Swift Creek.  Rather than abandoning the car as fast as possible, the driver turned south and drove a short distance until the vehicle broke through 3" of ice. She may not have realized she was on an ice covered river.  She was recovered  from inside the vehicle by rescue divers. 

The probable path of the motorist.  The red marker is the approximate breakthrough point. 

 Click here for another news report. 

Suggestions for being ready should you ever find yourself in a vehicle on ice that you suspect might be too weak:

  •  If the car is supported on the ice, go out the doors ASAP. If there are young kids in the car get them in the front seat first and push them out first.  Any ice that will support a vehicle will easily support you. 


Round Lake WI , January 1, 2014,  2:39 AM

A 35 year old snowmobiler, riding at 2 AM on Round Lake, crashed into a cabin which caught fire and burned.  Alcohol and speed were involved .  Data from the Wisconsin DNR shows about 60% of  snowmobile fatalities on lakes involve speed and a collision with an object or loss of control.  The large majority of these accidents occur after 10 PM and with significantly impaired riders.  The combination of the expanse of a frozen lake, darkness, impairment and the instant thrill available by pulling the throttle of a modern snow machine has killed many people.  


Felicity OH,  January 5, 2014


Felicity OH, red marker at the pond west of town.

A 9 year old boy and two girls (9 or 10 years old) were playing on  ice on a farm pond on the outskirts of Felicity.  They were spotted by the pond owner who warned them to get off the weak ice.  While walking off the ice two of them broke through.  911 was called immediately.  The owner tried to rescue them from shore with a rope tied to an extension chord but it was not long enough.  Emergency responders were able to save the girl but the boy went under at the time they arrived.  It took them an hour to find him and he was not able to be revived. 

Temperatures from Batavia OH (17 miles away)-From WeatherUnderground.com

The children had been playing on the ice for some days prior to the accident. Based on the above temperature plot it looks like the ice may have come in briefly on the 12th or 24th and then gone back out in warmer weather that followed.  

On Jan 2, ice would have formed or gotten thicker if any ice was left over from earlier. It could have grown to 2 inches by mid day on Jan 3.  Jan 4th was a moderately windy, sunny day that got above freezing around noon. The sun, wind and warm temps would have weakened the ice. The day of the accident was overcast with a max temp around 45 degrees.  The ice had been above freezing for 24 hours at the time of the accident.  


South Memphis TN, january 8, 2014

Cooro Lake.  

Two brothers (24 and 21) broke through thin ice as they walked on the partially frozen lake. 911 was called promptly by nearby residents.  The younger brother was able to get himself onto the ice and stomach-crawl to shore.  The older brother was in the water for about 45 minutes before rescue personnel were able to get him out.  He was trapped under water for some of that time.  He died in the hospital.   

Temps leading up to the accident.  (From www.wunderground.com/)


The ice was thin and thawed a little.  The ice appears to have come in the night of January 5 as the wind calmed down.  It probably came in sooner on the shore and  it was reported that the entire lake did not freeze.  There were about 15 freezing-degree-days from the morning of the 6th to the time of the accident on the 8th. That was enough to grow a little over an inch of ice.  The breakthrough thickness for a 200 lb adult is about 1.2".  



 Nome Alaska january 9, 2014

A section of the Nome River near where the accident took place.  It is a braided river which is likely to have high current speeds in many places and widely varying depths.  The ice thickness and strength is likely  to be quite variable as well.

A 74 year old, experienced, solo, ice fisherman when fishing on the Nome River a few miles outside of town.  He carried a test pole to test the ice and help him get out if he fell in. When he did not return home at the usual time family members found his tracks leading from his truck onto the river ice and where the foot prints ended abruptly.  A search involving 70 people was quickly organized.   The victim was found partially submerged in a hole that appeared to be a snow cap over thin ice  with an air gap between the ice and snow.  The water was chest deep.  The victim was not able to get out.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.  

Rivers, fast currents and going on the ice solo have significant risks.  


Gaithersburg, MD  January 13, 2014

 A 10 year old boy, his 11 year old brother and a 10 year old friend went out on the ice of a retention pond.  Two of them broke through and one made it to shore on his own without falling through.  One of the boys was rescued by firemen.  The remaining boy was submerged and was not found for about 30 minutes.  He died in the hospital that evening.

  The kids had been out on this ice at least one other time prior to January 13 when the ice was colder and stronger.  The 13th was sunny with a high of 55 degrees.  A 2 or 3 inch ice sheet thaws and weakens quickly in those conditions.    


(Graph from www.wunderground.com/)


Chicago, IL  January 13, 2014


Three friends were walking along the north shore of the Chicago River on the River Esplanade when one of them accidentally dropped his cell phone onto the ice on the river.  A 26 year old man climbed over the rail and down the wall to the river to attempt to retrieve the phone from the ice.  He may have stepped on the ice (which was probably loose plates that might have been weakly frozen together).  He fell in.  A 21 year old woman climbed down in an attempt to rescue the 26 year old.  She stepped on the ice and also fell in.  A 23 year old man tied to pull the other two out but he also ended up in the water.  911 was called by bystanders.  The rescue team was able to retrieve  the two men but were unable to find the woman for almost two days. The 26 year old man also died.   Alcohol was listed as a factor in the police report. 



New Haven IN January 14, 2014

Private pond

Temperatures for the month leading up to the accident and the day of the accident.  (graphs from www.wunderground.com/)

A 50 year old fisherman fell through weak ice on a private pond.  The Jan 6 to Jan 9  cold snap could have made about four inches of ice however the Jan 10 to Jan 14 warm spell could have melted over three inches.  It snowed a little several times during this period which could have help or hindered ice thickness.  The bottom line is the ice was too weak on January 14.   The temperatures on the early morning of the 14th dipped to 24 degrees  which, no doubt, made the ice feel firm after sunrise.  Thawing set in by 10am and by 1:00PM there had been enough thawing to remelt the overnight ice. There was sunny to partly cloudy skies until about 1PM which would have augmented the thawing process.  Winds were from the south at about 10 mph. 

Overnight ice can make a very rotten ice sheet feel pretty good for a little while in the morning but it can thaw quickly leaving a treacherous ice condition. 

A life jacket, ice claws, a friend with a throw rope and a spud are equipment every ice fisherman should have.  

In the past two years there have been about 10 fatalities in situations where people stayed on rapidly weakening ice until they fell through.  


Luck WI, January 15, 2914

Bone Lake. The accident took place near the east shore about halfway up the lake.

A 20 year old woman was riding tandem on a snowmobile at around 10 PM.  The operator of the machine made am abrupt turn to the left to avoid a metal ice fishing trailer.  The passenger was thrown off the sled's right side.  She hit the trailer and was killed.  

The operator had a BAC of 0.099%. That may not seem like a lot but its effect on risk is huge.  NHTSA did a comprehensive study on the relative risk of sober drivers and drivers with a measurable blood alcohol concentration. Figure 1 shows that 16-20 year old males with a BAC of 0.099% has about 78 times more risk of being killed than a sober driver.  This risk relationship should apply to snowmobiling just as well as cars and trucks. 

The open expanse of a frozen lake, darkness, alcohol and trying to keep up with someone else is a deadly combination. 


 Burtrum MN, January 18, 2014

 Long Lake near Burtrum MN. (from Google Map)  

A 22 year old man left his family's camp around 1:30 AM to go for a snowmobile ride on Long Lake.  His body and crashed sled was found in the early afternoon in a wooded lot on the northwest shore of the lake.  There was snow falling in the early morning with wind in the 10-12 mph range (at Long Prairie, MN).  Alcohol, speed and poor visibility were listed at contributors to the accident.  It is all too common for impaired, night time snowmobile rides to end with the machine slamming into the shore.  It is likely that is what happened here.   The expanse of a large snow covered lake, intoxication, night time and the thrill of winding up a snowmachine is a dangerous combination. 


 Carterville IL January 19, 2014

A 12 year old boy and two companions fell through weak ice on the pond shown in the picture above.  The victim ended up under the ice for about 20 minutes.  One boy made it to shore on his own.  A neighbor used an extension chord to rescue another boy who was close to shore.  

Temperatures for the first 19 days in January (www.wunderground.com/)

Ice probably formed on the pond during cold snaps in December and January and subsequently melted during warm spells. The day of the accident was the second day in a row that reached 40+ degrees.  The 19th was sunny as well.  The ice was harder and stronger in the morning and then got weaker from the warm wind and sun as the day progressed. 

More on kids and ice. 


Rochester IN, January 19, 2014

The red marker is the approximate location of the accident.

The body of a  51 year old man was found on Lake Manitou by friends at about 6 AM.  He had been riding his snow machine alone several hours earlier.  It looks like he had overdriven his head lights (possibly in light mist or falling/blowing snow) and he made an abrupt manoeuvre to attempt to avoid hitting the shore.  He was thrown from  his sled and died of blunt force trauma. Speed, alcohol and poor visibility were listed as possible contributing factors.

As has been seen many times this season, the wide open expanse of ice covered lakes is the source of many speed related fatalities.  The experience in Wisconsin showed, alcohol was involved with 96% of them, 88% were at night. 


 Click Here for Late January 2014 reports