Fatalities on North American ice: January 2015


January 4, 2015, Port Perry ONT.

A fisherman, on foot, fell through thin ice on Lake Scrugog, a large lake north east of Toronto. The ice near the breakthrough point was described as being 1.5 inches thick and 250 meters from shore with a water depth of 17 ft. The breakthrough was observed by a person on shore and promptly reported. The victim was not visible on the surface when Rescue arrived. Rescuers searched the area in hopes of finding the victim alive. A dive team recovered the victim in the afternoon.

It had been very windy (gusts in the mid to upper 30 mph range). Given the size of the lake and the wind direction alignment with the long axis of the lake there could have been open water created by the wind. Friday night before the accident the temperature dipped to 10 degrees under partly cloudy skies. This might have refrozen some areas opened by the wind. The temperatures in the last 18 or so hours before the accident were above freezing reaching a peak of 41 degrees. This also may have weakened thin areas. 1.5 inches of ice is about 0.3” over the breakthrough thickness for a 200 lb man...not much of a margin. Cold ice this thin makes a lot of cracking noise when stepped on. Partly thawed ice is quiet and weaker.


January 8, 2015 Valleyfield Newfoundland

A fisherman riding an ATV back from fishing on a pond about 11 km north of Valleyfield broke through the ice and drowned. The temperatures were around 20 deg F for the 10 days before the accident. A warm up from 0 to 40 degrees three days before the accident may have caused folded ridges to form. They can be hard to spot, especially if the water over the folded plates freezes or gets covered with blowing snow.


January 8, 2015 South Reno Nevada: A 13 year old boy and two friends went out on thin and thawed ice on a small pond at Foley Park. The boys were about 20-25 feet from shore. In the pictures the ice is broken into small pieces suggesting that it is well thawed. One boy left the ice before falling through. The second was assisted out by neighbors and the last was recovered by Rescue.

The pond probably caught on 12/31/2014 or 1/1/2015. The weather for several days prior to the accident got a bit below freezing at night and to the low 50's during the day with plenty of sunlight. This probably set up a cycle of being strong enough to support a 13 year old in the morning with weakening taking place during the day.


January 10, 2015 (Saturday) Oxon Hill, MD

A seven year old boy and his sister were playing near and on a frozen retention pond. The boy fell through the ice. A pair of policemen arrived at the scene promptly. They tried using a rod to extract the victim and one of them ended up wading into the shoulder deep water to get the boy out. He died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

The pond has a 3 foot high water spray (aerator?) on one side. It might have been a factor.

The average weight for a 7 year old is 50 lb. The cold ice break through thickness for 50 lb is 0.5”. It is most likely the ice came in on early Thursday morning in a modest cold push. It could have easily thickened to 0.7” or more by the time of the accident. It may have thawed some on Friday but probably hardened up on Friday morning and it stayed near freezing during the day.

The bottom line is, ice is a magnet for children.


January 11, 2015 (Sunday) Salisbury NC

An eight year old boy was playing with two 11 year olds in the mid afternoon. He walked on to the ice of a small pond and broke through. The 11 year olds tried to extend sticks to the victim and a local person tried to get to him by boat. Rescue personnel pulled the victim from the water 18 minutes after dispatch.

The ice probably came in the night before (or it may have come in on the morning of the eighth).

Saturday night was a clear, calm night and the ice could have have gotten to about 3/4” before the temperature got too warm on Sunday morning. The cold black ice breakthrough thickness for an average 8 year old is about 0.6” and needs to be thicker on partially thawed ice. By the time of the accident the temperature was in the upper 40's and the ice was probably significantly weakened and was quiet when stepped on, perhaps giving the boys a false sense of security. The picture attached to a local report shows many small roughly cubic pieces on the ice near the breakthrough area, suggesting significant grain boundary melting and related weakening in the five hours the temperatures were above freezing


January 14, 2015, Grand Haven Township MI:

A 14 year old boy did not come home from school as expected. A search on the route he took lead to where he fell through the ice on Millhouse Bayou. The place he broke through was a few feet deep (a press story on the incident suggests the victim may have been able to stand on the bottom but was not able to bet back on the ice or get to shore a few feet away).

The probable break-through point was under a road bridge over the Bayou. Ice under and near bridges tends to be thin from the faster current and the reflection of infrared radiation by the bridge. The weather during the first half of January had been fairly cold with many days staying below 20 degrees.


January 16, 2015: Little Bau De Noc, MI:

A 66 year old fisherman broke through the ice while riding on a four wheeler (and probably towing a shanty). His shanty was found collapsed on the ice by another fisherman about 8 AM. There was an active pressure ridge near where the victim broke through.


January 17, 2015 Mayfield, NY:

A 55 year old female snowmobile rider was following a male friend after dark on Great Sacandaga Lake. She became disoriented and ran into the shore.


January 17, 2015 Cowanshannock PA:

A 56 year old fisherman on Keystone Lake drilled a bunch of fishing holes and then fell through the ice and drowned. Other fishermen noticed he was missing about 8AM.

It is unlikely that the lake caught before Jan 6 and it may have been a while after that as there were a number of windy periods. On the day of the accident it got to 15 degrees over night. The previous two days were around freezing. Temperature does not seem to be an issue. The available information does not point a probable cause.


January 17, 2015 Wichita KS:

A 21 year old man was walking on ice near the Wichita airport. It was probably a golf course pond. Rescue was called about 9 AM. It took them about an hour to get the victim out of the water. He died a short time later.

The temperature hit 65 degrees, full sun and windy the day before the accident. It briefly dipped below freezing early on the morning of the 17th. It is likely that the ice was weakened substantially on the 16th and made a minimal amount of overnight ice the morning of the 17th.


January 18th, 2015 Owen County IN:

Two boys (13 and 17) fell through thawed ice on a quarry at about noon. The ice was described as less than three inches. The temperatures were mostly above freezing for three days before the accident and it was about 50 degrees and windy the day before the accident. This may well have been a case where one fell in and the other died trying to save him.

Paying attention to the recent weather better could have gotten them to wait until colder weather. Testing the ice better (spud or test pole) would have identified the weakness of the ice. Having ice claws would have made getting out easier. Flotation would have made getting out easier and kept them alive for much longer. A throw rope would make rescue more likely to succeed.


January 18, 2015 Manawa WI:

A 26 year old male snowmobile rider was riding on a pond, at night with a blood alcohol content of 0.224%. He struck the shoreline at speed.


January 18, 2015 Township of Mountain, WI:

A 34 year old snowmobile rider with a BAC of 0.162 rolled over while attempting a high speed turn on a pond.


January 21, 2015 Rock Springs, WY:

A 61 year old fisherman was riding a four wheeler on Flaming Gorge Reservoir when he broke through. Two other fishermen who were trying to retrieve another four wheeler from a breakthrough heard his cries and tried to rescue him with a rope and a canoe but were unsuccessful.

The five days prior to the accident were mostly above freezing with a peak of 48 degrees on the 19th. It had also been windy for several of the warm days. Warm temps and sun weakens the ice and warm wind thins it and creates wind holes.


January 21, 2015. Loveland Co

A 4 year old child was at a playground near soccer field where her family was watching soccer practice. There was a thinly frozen pond next to the playground and the child walked onto the ice and fell through. Her father came looking for her at the play ground and found her in the pond. He removed her from the water. Unfortunately she was unable to be revived.

The day of the accident the temperatures hovered near freezing. The week before the accident was sunny with an average temperature of 36 degrees and highs mostly in the 50's. The ice probably weakened and thinned. The three weeks previous to that averaged 21 degrees, probably coming in and probably getting to 3+ inches thick.


January 21, 2015 Magna UT: A 12 year old boy fell through thawed ice on an outdoor pool. His friend was unable to rescue him after the victim went went under the ice. He called for help.

Most of January averaged near freezing and the five days running up to the accident were were above freezing peaking at 51 on the 19th. The day of the accident was partly cloudy with a high of 37 but was partly cloudy. The sun is always fairly strong at the latitude of Magna. The breakthrough may have occurred on thin ice or ice weakened by the sun.


January 22, 2015 Evergreen CO: A 67 year old man was using a tractor to groom snow covered ice in preparation for a charity golf event. It snowed a couple inches on the 20th and 21st and It averaged 26 on the day of the accident however the snow would have insulated the ice. For the five days before the the 20th high temperatures were in the upper 50's to mid 60's. It was also windy during this period with four days with steady winds in the 20-30 mph range. This could have created numerous wind holes, some of which may have had weak floors in them. A tractor (especially one with a cab) is always a bad idea on ice. Not taking into account the recent weather history and driving on snow covered ice further increased the risk.


January 23, 2015 Lemon ND: Two men and two children were traveling on a four wheeler on Shadehill Lake. They broke through and everyone went into the water. The father of the children got out with one of the kids. The second child was rescued by two fishermen who came to the rescue. The 32 year old man disappeared into the lake and was recovered on the morning of the 25th.

The press pictures of the lake showed it to be covered with drifts, perhaps from snow that fell two days before the accident. The weather had been averaging above freezing for a week before and many of the high temps were in the upper 40's and lower '50's. It is possible that wind holes may have formed in warm, windy conditions or that a hidden folded ridge was under the snow.

As the fishermen who rescued one of the children showed, when vehicles break through it is common that most of the ice sheet is plenty strong enough to support people on foot. When people walk on the ice and then fall through rescue will be more risky on the weaker ice.


January 25, 2015 Oshkosh WI: A forty year old man and his son were driving a jeep on Lake Winnebago about two miles off shore. At about 7 AM the vehicle broke through. Rescue pulled the victims from the water. They both died in the hospital.

It was reported that the Jeep broke through at a 'crack'. Most likely it was a pressure ridge. Lake Winnebago is a big lake and it is criss-crossed with ridges. Vehicles are always dicey on ice and they have a well deserved reputation for breakthroughs at ridges.

The temperatures hovered around freezing the week before the accident. This might have been a factor in ridge activity.


January 26, 2015 Lansdowne MD: Four boys went on thin ice (between 1 and 2 inches) of thawed ice. They all fell through. Bystanders helped three of them get out. Rescue recovered the fourth (age 13) who did not survive.

The temperatures had been averaging above freezing for a couple weeks prior to the accident. It was sunny and above 40 at the time of the accident and had been 50 the day before. The ice looked moderately thawed in a WBAL video.


January 29, 2015 Kingston Ontario: A man in his 60's? was seen standing by skaters on the frozen St Lawrence River. Two minutes later they saw he was face down on the ice. They began CPR and called 911. The manager of the Kingston Yacht Club contacted people who were running a large ice boat regatta near by. They stopped racing and dispatched two four wheelers to assist. One of the ATVs had a defibrillator and an EMT on board. The yacht club manager suggested that they go directly to the victim. They did so but were unable to revive the victim. They took over CPR.

The second ATV reported to the yacht club where rescue personnel were preparing to go on the ice. The commander seemed unfamiliar with ice and in spite of many people being on the ice sailing, fishing and skating insisted that everyone be in ice rescue suits and tethered from shore. They did not have enough rope to reach the victim. After some discussion the second ATV took some rescue personnel to the victim who was brought to shore. CPR was handed off to ambulance personnel.

While the rescue commander seemed overly hesitant to me I can appreciate that doing ice rescue on the St Lawrence River could be daunting in worse ice conditions that existed that day. The river and adjoining Lane Ontario are very big and the current in the river needs to be considered. It is my understanding that the Rescue team planned to have a detailed review on this rescue when they got back to the firehouse.

A couple suggestions for ice rescue on foot:

  1. Learn to use test poles to allow a rescuer on foot to move quickly over the ice.

  2. Tethering to shore is pretty limiting, especially on this large a body of water.

  3. Tethering a rescue team together is reasonable. The point man can decide where to go and the other team members can be tethered in a line so they can belay the person in front of them.



January 29, 2015 Bay City MI: The 48 year old victim and a friend was riding snowmobiles on the south end of Saginaw Bay near the 'hot ponds'. The hot ponds are perpetually open ponds are at the cooling water outlet for a large generating plant. They both drove into the pond or at least onto ice that was thinned by the warm water. One of the men was saved and one passed away.