November and December 2014 ice fatalities


11/11/2014, Wollaston Lake, Northern Saskatchewan. Two men, traveling by snowmobile on a low flow rate river. They both broke through the ice at about 11 AM. One of the riders was able to self rescue and the other drowned. It took him about four hours to reach access to assistance. The newspaper report is confusing about the location details but suffice it to say this is a relatively remote area. The victim was recovered close to where he broke through about six meters (20 ft) from shore. The current was light at that location of the river.

Based on the weather record from Collins Bay, it looks like the lakes froze either in late October or early November. Water coming from the many lakes in the area would be warmer (+2 or 3 deg C) than typical rivers. The turbulence in the river will bring the warm water into contact with the ice on the surface so it is likely that these rivers will have thinner ice with more variation in thickness. Longer rivers will have more time to cool off the incoming lake water to 0.1 deg C that is more typical of mid-winter rivers.

Live jackets, ice claws, a change of clothes, and/or throw ropes would have probably changed the outcome of this accident.


11/23/14, Savanna MO. Two 17 year old men broke through ice on a farm pond about 40 feet from shore. The ice was described as 2” thick and the pond was partially frozen. The high temp for the day was 55 and it had been warm for the previous couple of days. It is likely the pond froze between the 11th and 21st when average temps were in the mid to high 20's. On the 21st it rose to above freezing and stayed 50 degrees for 25 hours before the accident. It was cloudy for this period. 2” ice weakens quickly from grain boundary melting at 50 degrees even though it may not get much thinner.

There is a good chance that one of the men fell through first and the second fell through trying to rescue the first.



Mission Lake, MT  November 23, 2014.

Mission lake is about 4 miles long and half a mile wide.  It is about 15miles east of the Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park. 

11/25/2014, Cut Bank MT. Three ice fishermen disappeared on Mission Lake sometime prior to 11/26. Mission lake is on the prairie east of Glacier National Park. It is about two miles long and half a mile wide. The temperature history suggests the lake was open prior to 11/14 when temperatures hit -17 deg F during a two day light wind period. Temps rose to the 40's for the five days before the 25th. It is also a windy place: Peak gusts over 40 are common and it hit 56 mph on the 22nd. This is plenty to cause rip-outs, especially in warm, partially thawed ice.

There is a good chance that one of the party fell through first and the others died trying to save them. This is an all too familiar circumstance. A throw rope will often make the difference between a successful rescue and a multiple fatality.


11/26/2014, Gun Lake, MN. A man riding an ATV broke through what was described as 1” ice. The water was six to seven feet deep. Six inch ice was found elsewhere in the area. The weather had been cold in the days leading to the accident so thaw weakening was unlikely. Thin ice can come from a number of sources including folded ridges, frozen ice edges, new ice holes and persistent thin areas associated with reefs or gas holes. It is not clear what the ATV driver had for equipment however a life jacket, ice claws and a buddy with a throw rope on another ATV would improve the odds a lot. The lake was about half a mile wide and 1.5 miles long. Walking is usually considerably safer than the 700 lb all up weight of an ATV.


11/29/2015, Pioneer OH. A 14 year old from Oregon fell through the ice near his family campsite. Rescue was attempted by others in the camping party with a thrown rope and a search for a boat. Rescue personnel recovered the boy about 43 minutes after he went under the water.

This is an example of doing thing right: Rescue was called promptly, a rope was found and used, a boat was sought and, most importantly, no one else died trying to rescue the victim.

The weather preceding the accident was included a two day 55 degree warm spell five days before the accident, then four days of temps around freezing and, on the day of the accident, 40 degrees and full sun. If the ice was a couple inches thick, grain boundary melting from both the temperature and the sun would most likely have significantly weakened the ice.


December 12, 2014, Bonavista Bay, NFL. An ATV rider broke through the ice on a pond and drowned. The weather record at Gander NFL suggests the pond might have gotten ice on it in late November or, maybe, as late as a couple days before the accident. In general the the weather in the weeks prior to the accident was cloudy, rainy/snowy, with average temps around freezing so ice probably does not thicken quickly.

A life jacket, ice claws and an ice drill probably would have resulted in a better outcome.


December 21, 2015, Ramsey Lake MN. A 20 year old man was riding at a high speed on a Polaris 800 Edge near the shoreline of Ramsey Lake at about midnight. He most likely hit a drift or other obstruction and was ejected from his sled and killed. The sled weighs about 550 lbs and the 800 cc engine generates about 135 hp giving an all up 5 lb/hp weight to power ratio. It can get to very high speed very quickly.

Alcohol was thought to be involved. The accident fits a well establish pattern of intoxication, night time, lakes and high speed that kills about a dozen people a year.


December 22, 2014, 1:37 AM, Freedom WI: The victim, with a BAC of 0.228%, drove his sled at a high rate of speed across a lake and into the far shore. A BAC of 0%, riding in daylight and a lighter hand on the throttle would have reduced the odds of death by a factor of 1000 or more!


December 29, 2014. Tomahawk WI: Two snowmobiles were riding in a line on Lake Mohawksin at around midnight. A woman passenger was riding on the lead sled when they hit a bump (snow drift, ice drift ridge, ??). She fell off and was hit by the second sled.

An obvious suggestion is to avoid riding directly behind sleds with passengers and keeping sufficient distance between sleds in a line. Blowing snow or snow thrown in the air by the lead sled may have contributed to the problem.