Over 40 Rescued After Ice Floe Breaks Off In Lake Erie

Man ice fishing.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

A total of 46 ice fisherman had to be rescued on Saturday when the ice floe they were standing on broke loose near Catawba Island on the Ohio side of Lake Erie, NBC News reports.

Prior to the arrival of the Coast Guard, more than 100 other individuals were able to make their way to safety on their own, either by swimming briefly through the frigid water or making their way across ice bridges that remained connected. It was about 8 a.m. when the Coast Guard got the call that there was a dangerous situation at the lakeshore.

“It happened really fast,” said Tony Adkins, who was on the ice for about 20 minutes before the cracks began to appear. “We didn’t know there was open water beyond us. You live and you learn, I guess.”

As temperatures rose throughout the morning, the large ice floes, which had broken off itself, separated into smaller chunks. Incidentally, this breakup actually made it easier for rescue personnel to navigate in between the floating ice and make their way to each of the stranded fishermen. Boats and helicopters were used to bring everyone to safety.

Local fire and emergency agencies, plus the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, joined the Coast Guard in the daunting rescue efforts. By 11 a.m., less than three hours after the initial emergency call, everyone was safe. The Coast Guard called the ordeal a “mass rescue” due to the number of individuals stranded.

No injuries or deaths were reported and the mass rescue was deemed entirely successful.

This was not the first time ice fisherman have found themselves in a precarious situation on Lake Erie. In 2009, locals watched anxiously as live media coverage unfolded covering 134 fisherman, who found themselves similarly stranded after trying to fish, despite cracks in the ice and high-wind warnings, both of which are widely understood signs of danger in the ice fishing community. Further tempting fate, some in that instance had actually built crude bridges across already cracking ice to access their preferred fishing spots.

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Tragically, one individual in that incident was not as lucky as those who made it to safety today, dying when his snowmobile broke through the ice hundreds of yards from shore.

Saturday, as temperatures continued to rise, the Coast Guard warned would-be fishermen to stay off of the ice.

“Ice may look safe but it is difficult to determine the thickness visually and the increase in warm weather will continue to melt and weaken the ice,” they said in a statement after the rescue.