VALCOUR — Bob Santor was a young man when he and his dad, Leeward Santor, nearly perished on Lake Champlain during the winter of 1962.
The two anglers just finished a day of ice fishing near Valcour Island. It was a warm day, Bob remembers of that March afternoon. Pockets of water lay atop the ice cover, but the Santors were seasoned veterans and felt safe in the old Model A Ford they always used for their excursions on the ice.
“We’d been all the way around the island,” Bob said recently as he recalled the events that could have cost him and his father their lives that day.
“There was no snow on the ice, but there were spots of water here and there.”
They were used to those puddles, remnants of the melting snow cover, but they knew the ice was still several inches thick below the surface water.
“We went through a pond of water (near the southern tip of Valcour Island), and there must have been a crack (in the ice) because we broke through, and the car went straight down headfirst to the bottom.”
The Model A was used exclusively for ice fishing; in fact, the Santors parked the vehicle on the ice near the current location of Peru Dock when they finished fishing each day. The vehicle no longer had a back seat, and there was no rear window, so it filled with lake water the instant it broke through.
“It all happened just like that,” Bob said. “There was no way to get out of the car until we hit bottom.”
Fortunately, the car landed on solid ground about 20 feet below the surface, and the two men were able to exit the vehicle and swim to the surface once it had come to rest.
The hole they had fallen through was a shade lighter than the surrounding ice, and they were able to swim to and break above the surface for a much-needed breath of air.