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.


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.

And Upton was glad Breyette was there.

“I couldn’t have gotten (Senecal) out by myself,” he said.


Senecal said he was not injured, only cold and wet. 

He was frightened at first, but “once I hollered and Mr. Upton turned around, I knew I would get out.” 

He ice fishes two to three times a week during the season; he’d never fallen in before. A layer of snow had covered the ice, preventing him from seeing how thin it was, he said.

Upton, who lives in Beekmantown, said someone was fishing on the spot just two days before the accident and that the hole had frozen with a thin layer of ice.

The Senecals, married 48 years, are deeply grateful to Upton and Breyette.

“I’m 72 years old,” Mr. Senecal said. “There was no way I was going to get out on my own.”

In a Letter to the Editor to the Press-Republican, he wrote: “You will always be my heroes ...”


Wednesday, he was enduring a bad cold that Mrs. Senecal figures was triggered by his bath in icy water.

“I knew he was going to get sick,” she said.

She also knows her husband will get back on the ice next winter; he just loves ice fishing.

“Oh, yes,” he confirmed that.

Mr. Senecal, Upton and Breyette were only nodding acquaintances before.

“We only talked three or four times” while fishing, Mr. Senecal said.

Breyette, also a Beekmantown resident, said that no one should go ice fishing alone because of the risk of falling through the ice.

Upton’s advice is for anglers to fish with a partner as much as possible.

“You can never be too careful,” he said.

— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.