You’re ‘walking on thin ice’

February 5, 2019

La PORTE — After the death of an ice fisherman in Northeast Indiana last month, and frigid weather that’s left most bodies of water ice-covered, authorities are warning about the potential hazards of frozen lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.

Last week’s Arctic blast has covered most bodies of water with ice. But conservation officers being vigilant and keeping an eye on neighborhood ponds, lakes and other waterways for those who may venture out and find themselves in trouble.

“Every winter, thousands of Hoosiers safely enjoy fishing, skating, hiking or just sliding around on frozen ponds and lakes,” said Lt. Angela Goldman of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement.

“And every year, people drown after falling through ice. Just like re-learning how to drive on snow versus clear roads, some Hoosiers need to re-learn how to safely have fun on ice.”

A Coatsville man died Saturday after his all-terrain vehicle fell through ice on a lake in Putnam County.

Divers found 48-year-old Brett Crowder in about 30 feet of water in Heritage Lake. Authorities reported that Crowder was pronounced dead at the scene, 35 miles west of Indianapolis. A friend also broke through the ice on an ATV but survived.

On Jan. 19, 45-year-old Robert Penland of Pleasant Lake died after falling through ice.

Just after 10 a.m., Steuben County Communications was contacted by the Hamilton Police Department that they were checking on an unattended portable ice fishing sled at Terry Lake in DeKalb County.

Officers found evidence that suggested an ice fisherman had fallen through the ice, and requested emergency crews.

The Angola Fire Department responded with its airboat to where unattended ice fishing gear was found next to open water. They recovered a body from the water and took him to shore, where DeKalb EMS pronounced him dead at 11:04 a.m.

“Conservation officers strongly recommend using extreme caution when venturing onto frozen lakes or ponds, and always wearing a personal floatation device,” Goldman said.

The U.S. Coast Guard is echoing those sentiments, and warns that even the most experienced ice fishermen can be caught offguard.

In Wisconsin last week, a Coast Guard Station Sturgeon Bay response crew worked with partner agencies to rescue seven people stranded on the ice about a mile northeast of Snake Island near Sturgeon Bay.

The seven were set up in an ice shanty Tuesday, but were unable to make it back to shore due to difficulties with their utility task vehicle and inclement weather. The temperature on scene was reported as 4 below zero, with a wind chill factor of minus-30 and large snow drifts.

The Coast Guard Station and Wisconsin DNR arrived with airboats, loaded the seven into two boats and transported them to shore with no apparent injuries.

The Coast Guard advises people against going out on ice “for personal safety and safety of response crews,” a statement from the federal agency said.

“Risks include hypothermia, frostbite, and death. Symptoms leading up to hypothermia set in by reducing motor and brain function, thereby limiting the ability to call for help.”

Even the recent blast of sub-zero temperatures was not enough to make all ice safe. The Bremen Conservation Club, which had rescheduled its annual ice fishing tournament from Jan. 19 to Feb. 3, announced it was postponing the event on Lake of the Woods again, this time until Feb. 10, “due to poor ice conditions.”

The 2019 North American Ice Fishing Circuit National Championship Qualifier is also the weekend of Feb 8-10 on Pine and Stone lakes in La Porte. It features a seminar and trade show on Friday night, Ice Camp with kids on Saturday, and the tourney and weigh-in on Sunday. If conditions allow.

IDNR offers the following tips for anyone considering going out onto a frozen lake or pond:

n No ice is safe ice.

n Test the thickness of ice with an ice auger. At least 4 inches of ice is recommended for ice fishing; 5 inches is recommended for snowmobiling.

n If you don’t know ... don’t go.

n Wear life jackets or flotation coats.

n Carry ice hooks and rope gear.

n When going out on ice, leave a note with a friend or family member of your whereabouts.

n Don’t test the thickness of ice while alone.

n If you see a pet or other animal in distress on the ice, don’t go after it. “This can often end in tragedy,” Goldman said. “Contact your local emergency response personnel, who are equipped to make a rescue on thin ice.”

“The best rule of thumb is, when walking on ice, believe you are ‘walking on thin ice.’ Wearing a life jacket is especially important when on the ice. If you fall through, a life jacket will keep your head above the water until help arrives,” Conservation Officer Max Winchell said.

“Ice is covering most bodies of water. We would like to ask that the community keep a close eye out for children in your area who may play on the ice,” he said. “It takes extreme low temperatures and quite some time to form several inches of ice. Until this week, we have not had those conditions consistently this winter.”

A quick-turnaround to warmer weather makes things even dicier.

Snow can also make for treacherous ice conditions, Goldman said. “Snow can insulate the ice, causing it to freeze at a slower rate. When the snow and rain that just fell across Indiana freeze into ice, it is never as strong as solid, clear ice.”

While some bodies of water will appear to be frozen solid, they can actually can have thinner ice in several unsuspected areas.

“Flowing water, such as rivers and streams, should be avoided when covered by a layer of ice,” Winchell said. “Water that is surrounded by sand may freeze with inconsistencies in the thickness of the ice. Underground springs, wind, waterfowl and other animals can also keep areas of ice thin.”

—From staff reports

How much ice?

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources:

1 inch of ice - STAY OFF!!!

4 inches of ice - Needed for safe ice fishing

5 inches of ice - Needed for snowmobiling

8 inches of ice - Needed to support a car or light truck.

10 inches of ice - Needed to support a medium weight truck.

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