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April 4, 2013

Fall through ice nets quick rescue

PLATTSBURGH — Ron Senecal was flailing his arms in the icy water of Lake Champlain, hollering for help.

The Peru man had been ice fishing off Wilcox Dock in the City of Plattsburgh on March 24.

“I cut one hole, and we weren’t getting any bites,” he said. “So I walked about 30 feet, and the ice gave way.

“My exact thoughts were, ‘How am I gonna get out of here?’”

But Manuel Upton and Warren Breyette were fishing that day, too.

The wind was blowing hard, said Upton, who was sitting with his back to the spot where Senecal went through.

Breyette heard someone yelling but didn’t think much of it at first.

Then Upton turned and saw Senecal struggling in the water. The man’s cries for help had reached Breyette, too, and they sprang into action.

Senecal had managed to keep his head and one arm above water; his rescuers pulled him out with an auger so as not to break more ice or to get too close and risk falling in themselves.

‘WOULD HAVE DIED’

Senecal, conscious but silent as though in shock, lay on the ice. It took three to four minutes before Upton and Breyette got him to his feet. 

They walked him to his truck, where he took off his coveralls and boots. 

Then Senecal drove home.

“He was soaking wet,” his wife, Judy, said Wednesday. “I was just petrified that he fell through the ice.”

“He would have died if we weren’t there,” Breyette said.

Upton had not thought about whether they would fail at rescuing Senecal; in the moment, he’d just been focused on getting him out of the water.

He said they should have called 911, but the matter was so urgent that he thought help would not have arrived in time.

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