SANTA CLARA — Prone on the fragile ice of Upper Saranac Lake, Aaron Hyatt managed to get a rope around one of the men in the water, but the other angler was losing the battle to stay afloat.
“He was yelling, ‘I can’t make it any more,’” Hyatt said. “And he went under. I was screaming to him, ‘I’m not going to let this happen!’
“You could hear the rescue crews launching the hovercraft; You could tell they were coming, but we couldn’t see them.”
Hyatt and Jim Yoder, two camp caretakers, had been working near the water’s edge Wednesday afternoon, watching warily as two ice fishermen put lines through the still-frozen surface of Green Bay, a cove in the lake’s northern end.
“They were out there Monday for half a day, and yesterday, they were out there in the morning,” Hyatt said in an interview Thursday.
“I’m a lifelong fisherman — I’ve been watching the ice shrink daily and generally deteriorate and turning dark,” he said.
“They were about 75 yards out, near the edge of the ice. The water is very deep there. The shelf drops from 15 feet to about 40 feet deep.”
Yoder, 50, was the first to hear the two men screaming for help.
“Jimmy came up to me and said, ‘They fell through, they fell through,’” Hyatt said.
“I grabbed a rope, which we had at camp, and started running.
“And I told Jimmy to grab two life jackets. We ran along the shoreline. From training in wilderness first aid, I knew we shouldn’t create more of a risk by jumping in the water.
Leo Fisher, 46, and Robert Duntley, 74, were in the water, trying to grab the icy edge and gain purchase.
“We tied the rope around a small tree that was on the shoreline and threw it, but it wasn’t quite making it to them,” Hyatt said.