HUBBARD LAKE - Two men escaped harm when their pickup truck went through the ice on Hubbard Lake Dec. 13.
The men had been ice fishing on the lake, taking their pickup out onto what turned out to be thin ice, Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Warren MacNeill said. He described the incident from what he learned talking to other anglers and the victim's mother. When the two men got back into the truck and started driving, the truck went through. The two were able to get away, and the pickup was recovered on Sunday by a towing company that specializes in underwater retrievals.
The two had driven past what MacNeill called the chip ice, a layer of ice formed when smaller chunks freeze together. The chip ice might be thicker than that covering other parts of a lake, and even with the recent cold weather it's still early in the ice fishing season.
"This is a bad time of year," he said. "This is the time of year where ice is not going to be consistent. You'll have areas with good, thick ice, and areas where you could be within 20 feet of just a couple inches of ice."
The towing company had a diver attach a line to the truck, then pull it through another hole cut in the ice, MacNeill said. The driver, Steve Boyk of Ossineke, wasn't fined since he worked to remove the truck from the lake as soon as possible.
"I walked around, and it didn't appear there was any environmental damage... nothing more than what would normally wash off the underside of a vehicle," he said.
No ice is safe ice, MacNeill said. It's a line he says often as a conservation officer, but always bears repeating. Even two-foot-thick ice can have pressure cracks where a person might fall into a six-foot gap of open water. It's important to have a plan, and there are a few key things to remember that can save a life.
"If you go through (the ice), you get that initial shock of cold water," he said. "It kind of takes the breath away. If you can hold on for that 30 seconds to a minute, you can actually fight your way through the cold, then you can get moving."
Try pulling yourself out of the water and back in the direction from which you came, MacNeill said. Call for help, then get your hands on top of the ice. Kick your legs to thrust yourself out of the water as if you were climbing out of a pool. When you're out, roll onto safe ice. Help anyone else who fell in, then get to a warm place as soon as possible.
"Once hypothermia kicks in and the blood temperature and body temperature starts dropping, cognitive thinking goes away along with that," he said.
Having certain tools on hand can help in a rescue situation, MacNeill said. For pulling yourself out of the water, he recommends a set of ice picks attached to a cord, available at any sporting goods store. He wears one down each sleeve with the cord around his shoulders, so they're always within reach. The same floating seat cushions often carried on boats can be tied to a rope and thrown to someone who falls through. Life jackets also help, either the inexpensive orange ones or the self-inflating kind.
For those trying to rescue someone who has fallen through, remember three words, MacNeill said: Throw, row and go. The first thing they should try is find something to throw to the victim. Even a bucket, if thrown right, will float long enough for someone to grab onto. For rowing, the tub sleds often used for hauling ice fishing gear can act as a makeshift boat. The last resort is tying a line to yourself and going after the victim.
"But you don't want to be a victim also," he said. "If there's only two of you and the other goes through and you go after them, now we have two victims."
Instead, go for help, MacNeill said. If you call 911 to report someone through the ice, stay on the line and describe your location as best as you can. Tell the operator where you started; it'll give first responders an idea of where to look.