Press-Republican

January 15, 2013

Rescues avert thin-ice disasters

Anglers avoid disaster after falling through

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — SARANAC LAKE — Two anglers were rescued from the frigid waters of Lake Colby here after the ice gave way beneath their four-wheeler.

And five people floundered for several minutes in the frigid waters of Lake Champlain near Addison, Vt., after they fell through.

“The ice on Lake Champlain is not safe at this time,” Essex County (N.Y.) Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish emphasized on Monday. “I would not advise anyone to go out there.”

DEC spokesman David Winchell says the same about Lake Colby and other bodies of water in the Adirondacks, where unseasonably warm weather has affected the thickness and stability of the ice.

The Lake Colby rescue happened at about 2:30 p.m. Saturday, with two forest rangers and a DEC officer called out by State Police.

“Forest rangers assisted Mr. S. Comstock and Mrs. D. Comstock, both 53, of Saranac off the very thin ice,” he said. “The couple were wet from falling through the ice. They were given dry clothes and were placed in a heated patrol vehicle. They declined any further treatment.”

The Comstocks had planned to spend the afternoon ice fishing, according to Winchell.

He said another all-terrain-vehicle broke through thin ice on Lake Colby earlier Saturday, but no rescue was needed.

“Both ATVs were removed from the water by the end of the day. No tickets were issued.”

‘NO ICE IS SAFE’

Sunday’s incident near the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain began when four ice anglers fell through thin ice. Then a person who tried to rescue them got dunked, too.

The near tragedy occurred near the 10 Acres Campground and RV Park in the Town of Addison, across the lake from Crown Point. The call for help, though, came via a cellphone tower on the New York state side to the Essex County 911 Center in Lewis, Jaquish said. 

Addison, Vt., Fire Chief Chris Mullis said the men were in the water about 20 minutes and were lucky help arrived so quickly.

Rescue workers pulled two of them from the lake, while the other three extricated themselves. 

The ice was just 3 inches thick where the surface gave way, and temperatures were in the 40s, Mullis said.

Port Henry Fire Chief James Hughes said Monday that no one had gone through on the New York side, but the ice was just as unstable there.

“No ice is safe ice.”

‘CHECK DEPTH, QUALITY’

The DEC issued a public warning about accessing frozen lakes.

“Heavy snows have insulated the ice, preventing it from thickening during cold weather. Ice also has thawed and refrozen, making it weaker than solid ice,” Winchell said of the advisory.

“The recent thaw has resulted in water and slush on top of thin ice. Ice over running water, near outlets and inlets and along shorelines can be especially thin and weak. Ice that holds snow may not hold the weight of a person even when snowmobile tracks or footprints are present. 

“No ice should be considered safe until the ice depth and quality have been checked.”

‘TOO RISKY’

DEC is strongly urging anglers to check ice conditions ahead of setting foot on frozen bodies of water.

“During warm winters such as the one we are currently experiencing, some anglers take risks that they would otherwise not take,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement. 

“Last year, safe ice did not form on many larger waters, but smaller lakes and ponds eventually provided sufficient ice for safe angling. Although the wait can be frustrating, falling through the ice is not a risk anyone should take. 

“Ice thickness varies on every lake or pond, even within the same body of water, and anglers should be particularly wary of areas of moving water and around boat docks and houses where bubblers may be installed to reduce ice buildup.”

Learn more about ice fishing and safety at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7733.html.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: 

kdedam@pressrepublican.com