Crazy Way To Chop An Ice Fishing Hole

Discussion in 'Hard Water Discussions' started by mrphish42, Nov 26, 2008.

  1. mrphish42

    mrphish42 locators dont lie

    Just finished up a conversation with bassmastermjb (Mark) and the subject of just what was the most crazy way either of us had personally witnessed someone attempting to cut(chop) a hole in the ice so they could ice fish, came up.Since I started back in the "spud bar days". I have seen many and yet, Mark has seen his share of strange/crazy/comical/almost unbelieveable methods that people would attempt to cut that hole with, in the absence of a auger or spud bar......To answer this, you most likely will have to have been ice fishing for a lot of years.....but not totally true....I'LL START WITH ONE FROM US......A "HATCHET".......All the items that will get mentioned can cut thru the ice [sooner or later} and their usage is directed at showing newer ice fishermen.....TO JUST WHAT LENGTHS they will go to...to achieve their goal.......If the guys come thru with some of the ways that we know there are...... JUST THINK AND LAUGH, AT HOW EXTREMELY labor intensive these actions were........Come on, Mark says that some of you older guys have seen it all too............MARK and JON SR
     
  2. freyedknot

    freyedknot useless poster

    not for fishing ,but duck hunters have been known to use chain saws to get some open water.
     

  3. believe it or not we (me and my teenage redneck friends) used to use a big AXE and cut a big A## "square" or a few small ones in a local pond just to ice fish. ice usually was 5-8 inches thick, really wasnt that hard at all to do. rarely ever caught anything, few gill and crappies. it was dumb and maybe dangerous but you know how bored kids will be lol. thankfully never fell through.
     

  4. I did the same ..we did not have any money for a spud bar or Ice saws,,Ice saws are making a come back...we caught plenty of fish perch by the bucket full from lake Erie,it is amazing the amount of money and equipment people think they need to catch fish
     
  5. Lundy

    Lundy Staff Member

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    My first experience ice fishing back in 1972 we used a hatchet to cut the holes through around 12" of ice.

    You do what you have to do.:)

    I now have a gas powered hatchet;) :)
     
  6. mrphish42

    mrphish42 locators dont lie

    YOU GUYS ARE GREAT!!!!!! HOPE IT CONTINUES........"LUNDY", summed it up with ["you do what you have to do]....
     
  7. Lewis

    Lewis ORIGINAL TEAM OGF

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    I witnessed a couple guys using a hammer and chisel in the mid 70's out on Mogadore.:)
    They were dressed like it was springtime..tennis shoes and light jackets.:p
    I drilled a few holes for them,gave them a couple jigs and some bait.

    Remember the old "cup style" augers??
     
  8. mrphish42

    mrphish42 locators dont lie

    Lewis......Bet we crossed paths at some point back then. I also saw that same hammer and chisel event....... repeated at Mogadore....The old cup style "MUSTAD" auger was the first type I owned.....Was a "BI###" to try and cut a hole with....when the cutting edge went...Also alot more people came out to lakes to give it a try....dressed like you said....and most fished with their regular 5/6 ft rods...base ball bobbers/ carried their regular tackle boxes......and brought lawn chairs to set in....FROZE THEIR A$$$$ OFF/NEVER GOT A BITE.......Thanks for bringing back those thoughts......Jon Sr. PS. The fires that some of them started building out on the ice (to try and keep warm) were at times...an even bigger event to behold.
     
  9. PapawSmith

    PapawSmith Bud n Burgers

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    When I was young, growing up in Michigan, all we used was a single edge timber axe. I'll never forget when I was about 16 a buddy and I were out and I was chopping holes. I was getting tired and was 'choking up' on the axe handle. I slipped mid swing and brought the axe head right down on the top of my foot. HOLY $H!T :( . Thank god my boots were about 3" thick with felt lining and all. The blade wasn't sharp enough to cut me but it did break the bone in the top of my foot. Took about a year before it was pain free.
    Not trying to change things up here, but can one of you guys that can post articles PM me with your e-mail address? I have a great true story that I read last year that the author was kind enough to send me. It is a very good and important read for all of us that are about to venture out onto the ice. It will make ALL think about safety, I gaurentee it. I don't know how to move this from my e-mail inbox to this site, and I'm not trainable. :confused:
     
  10. zachtrouter

    zachtrouter FISHAHOLIC

    I had a crazy uncle who absolutely loved the cuyahoga river and would fish it all day and night. I used to do some fishing with him when I was a punk teenager. Well one winter we went to that little pond behind waterworks down river from the old munroe falls. I had never been ice fishing before and when we got there was a good 6" of ice. I didnt even know h what a auger was! "How the hell we gonna get through that?" I asked. My uncle told me to sit with the gear and he'll be right back. About 5 min later he comes back with the STIHL chainsaw. He fired that bad boy up cut about a 2'x2' hole. We fished for about a hour and after the cops came and asked if we were crazy we left.
     
  11. ...You got to admit after reading and listening to all these stories that an Ice Fisherman tells...We all must be a brick shy of a full load...Some of the stories are very funny...
    SEE YOU ON THE ICE....c.l.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 30, 2015
  12. Was fishing for stocked trout at a State Park Lake. Two guys showed up with rods, bucket and a hammer.:rolleyes: They proceeded to whack away at the 6 to8"of ice and finally made a hole. After about a half hour they started fishing through empty and partily frozen holes. Finally, one dropped his bait through a 1/2" crack in the ice and immediately hooked something big.:B Well, that was a sight to watch as he fought the fish and his partner chopped away with the hammer in a frantic way:p . They finally got through the ice with around a 4 to 5" hole and pulled up a breeder size trout. The guy with the hammer was so hot that there was steam rising off his head. :)
     
  13. bassmastermjb

    bassmastermjb The Lucky One

    I've watched a Certain Ethnic group of guys(the ones with the huge hairy hats) use anything from a tire iron,baseball bat,hammer, knives and hatchets to get through the ice to fish.The strange thing was, by the time they got done getting through the ice, they're soaking wet from the water flying once they brake through.By cutting holes like this, they were always larger than they should be.........Watched the same "Einstein" fall crotch deep 3 times in the same hole his dog fell through earlier in the day.You'd think they would all pitch in and buy an auger.Nope, been watching the same guys do this the past 15-20 years now on Shadow Lake.I have to invest in a video camera, these guys are a riot to watch...............Mark
     
  14. Lewis

    Lewis ORIGINAL TEAM OGF

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    Here is Papaw's article.....


    Christmas Break - A Story of Survival
    My fishing partner, Rege Duffy has been my closest friend for over 25 years. We met in 1974 when I began work for a small steel company, and within a few days we discovered that we share many common interests. Our respective anniversaries are within three weeks of each other, and each of us is godfather to one of the other’s daughters. We live next door to each other, our children have grown up together, and we consider each other family.

    When Rege discovered that I would like to hunt whitetails, but wouldn’t pick up a gun after Vietnam, he completely surprised me by putting a new bow in my hands. In turn, when I discovered that he liked to fish, I taught him about using spoons, spinner baits, crank baits, and worms for catching largemouth and small mouth bass. Together we’ve uncovered the finer points of ice fishing.

    Lake Arthur in Butler County, Pennsylvania offers ice fishermen the opportunity to catch musky, stripers, largemouth, bluegills, crappies, walleyes, perch, and northern pike. Our inaugural trip each year has almost always been New Years day, but this year we didn’t make it out until January 2. Between us we have over fifty years of ice fishing experience, and we’ve fished on the ice through subzero weather, blizzards, and torrential downpours. No weather is ever too bad for us to fish. All we need is the ice.

    Just prior to New Years Day, 2000, the ice had reached six inches thick, and I was chomping at the bit to get out but couldn’t find anyone to go with me. Rather than attempt going out myself, a vain, unsafe practice at best, I waited until Rege could accompany me. Three days of weather in the 50-60 degree range hadn’t really affected the ice. I’d been calling various bait shops surrounding the lake for several days to monitor ice conditions, and which areas were producing the hottest action.

    The first indication that something might go awry came when I asked John O’Donnell owner of O’Donnel’s Tackle in Prospect PA, where ice-fishermen were catching the largemouths. He responded, “I’m not telling you to fish on the lake anywhere.” This was a completely uncharacteristic response from John who is usually very cordial, quite vocal, and works hard to give precise directions to his customers, keeping them on fish; no matter what hour they beat on his door.

    I’d missed what wasn’t being said— Strike one!



    Exiting the bait shop with a Styrofoam bait bucket full of shiners and fatheads, we debated which end of the lake to fish. We had replenished our tackle boxes with a couple dozen new ice ants each, and our pockets bulged with containers of wax worms and maggots. Ultimately we decided to fish off of Rt. 528 behind Mt. Zion Baptist Church where we’d caught citation crappies, bass, and northern pike, early last season. Parking down the unimproved boat ramp at the edge of the ice, we quickly unloaded the truck and pulled our shanties out onto the ice. With the exception of a few puddles the ice still looked solid, despite three days of unseasonably warm weather. Looking up the lake I could see a dozen fishermen and their tip-ups spread across the ice in the same area we fish.

    Arriving at our spot, a strange voice yelled out, “Hey Mike.” I looked up to see Jay DeBucci, a young man I’d known since he was barely a teenager.

    Inclining my head toward Rege, I asked, “Hey, do you know this guy.”

    Jay eyed him up and down, flashed a big grin, and greeted him with, “Hey Rege.” We hadn’t seen Jay for about five years.

    “Doing any good?” I asked.

    “Should have been here last Wednesday,” Jay responded, “Mike, we just killed the panfish, and the bass kept the tip-ups busy all day.” Jay introduced us to his fishing partner Ron Czarnecki, and while Rege and Jay caught up on old times, I began drilling holes for my tip-ups.

    With the tip-ups set up, I dragged out two jigging rods, baiting one with maggots and the other with a wax worm. I’d no sooner dropped the ice ant to the bottom then pulled it up to set the depth, when a bluegill decided it was breakfast time. I don’t like to sit in one spot too long if the fishing is slow, so I began to move around fishing holes from previous days, catching a fish here, a fish there, trying to stay busy. I had my heart set on the first fish fry of the year, and I was determined to catch enough for the whole family. The fishing wasn’t great, but with one eye on the tip-ups, and the other focused on the panfish, my catch soon began to mount up. One of the great things about fishing for panfish is that as early evening approaches, the fish frequently go on a feeding frenzy, and then the pace becomes hectic making it difficult to keep two rods in the water. As the day wore on, the sun played hide-n-seek behind the clouds, reinforcing the weatherman’s prediction for rain the next day.

    Shortly after noon, while walking over to check what turned out to be a false flag on a tip-up, I noticed the ice spidering with each step I took. Bending down for a closer examination I saw there was a thin layer of ice atop the main ice, but only the thin layer was fracturing.

    Rationalization— Strike two!



    Late in the afternoon I moved out over the channel into 11 feet of water to see if the panfish were more cooperative in deeper water. I’d no sooner dropped the maggot to the bottom and began lifting the rod tip, when a fat perch dressed in her bright orange and green winter colors, attempted to steal my maggot. As I re-baited, the other spring bobber slammed against the rod. Pulling the fish toward the surface I knew it was a nice fish, but just when it started to come through the hole, the hook pulled loose, and a slab crappie rolled over, diving back toward the darkness below.

    When the fish are hitting well they have my undivided attention. Looking toward Jay and his buddy Ron, I noticed that the area they were sitting in was beginning to pond with water, and then I examined my own area only to discover my holes were sinking below the surface also. Since there was only about an hour of sunlight left, I figured that we’d get off all right, but I would hate to try getting on the ice again tomorrow.

    Justification— Strike three!



    As darkness began to fall, Ron and Jay began packing up to leave. Instantly, everything I had ignored throughout the day began to come together creating a real sense of fear in my gut. I yelled over to Jay, “Hey Jay, give us a couple minutes. It’s getting dark and I think we should all leave together.” I quickly reeled up my jigging rods and hurried over to bring in the tip-ups. When I started to bring in the third tip-up I felt pressure on the line, and once again right at the hole, a three-pound largemouth spit the hook. The fish had taken out about 40 yards of line but the flag had not gone up. After stowing the gear on the shanty, Rege and I began trailing Jay and Ron. With each step toward shore, the sound of the spidering-ice chilled my blood. Although I couldn’t see the ice in the deepening dusk, I had a feeling that if we got off the ice without incident, we would be extremely fortunate.

    We were spaced about 50 yards apart as we headed in. I could barely make out Jay reaching shore and starting up the slope. When I saw Jay step ashore I paused for a split second to change hands on the pull rope. As soon as I took the next step, my right boot broke through the ice, my leg in the water up to the knee. I froze in place feeling the shanty bump the back of my calves. My mind raced— I thought about throwing myself forward spread-eagled, or trying to quickly sit down on the shanty right behind me and push away from where I’d broken through. At this time I don’t recall what I decided, all I remember is that as soon as I shifted my weight onto the left foot, I heard the horrendous sound of splintering ice, and plunged into the cold water.

    Five Minutes
    When I felt myself going down, my first thought was, “I’m going to die tonight.” The following thoughts reminding me to “Spread eagle as you fall, and ignore the shock of the cold water.” My mind screamed, “Establish your breathing.” The shock of the cold water hit me, my breath caught, and I had to mentally override the impulse to quit breathing. I screamed out, “Rege, I broke through! I’m in the water!” However, as soon as Rege stopped and tried to turn back to help, the ice gave way under him and he too was in desperate trouble. “Jay! We’re in the water!” I screamed.

    I could hear Rege yelling, “Help! Get help.” When you’ve known someone for a quarter of a century, you can be assured that you’ve been in a scrape or two together. This was the worst situation the two of us had ever been in together. It was still light enough for me to see Rege floundering in the water, and quiet enough to hear his fear and panic filled voice. I imagine my voice sounded similar to his. Ron was still ten yards offshore, but when he heard us break through and start yelling, he stopped and broke through as well, but fortunately he was close enough to shore that the water shallow, and he just rolled himself back up onto the ice and ran for shore.

    Mt. Zion Baptist Church sits atop the hill above the boat launch, about 200 yards beyond where Rege had broken through. I don’t remember the number of times I’ve listened to the pastor’s sermon while ice fishing in the channel close to shore on Sunday mornings, but that night all of the windows were aglow, and the church was bathed in the lights from the parking lot. It had an immediate calming effect on me, much like a ships captain in the teeth of a storm sighting a lighthouse.

    I felt something poking me in the shoulder, and looked back to see the shanty half in and half out of the water, the bucket with the jigging rods and tip-ups leaning half on the shanty and half on me. The last thing I needed at that moment was to be tangled in Spider-wire or have a hook imbedded in my body. I shoved the shanty back up on the ice. When I reached out to try and pull myself up onto the ice, the ice fractured and my head plunged under water. At that instant the renegade thought, “I am going to die tonight,” again invaded my consciousness. Aloud, I softly spoke an apology and a goodbye to my wife, saying, “Sandy, I’m sorry. I sure didn’t mean for it to end this way.” For a split second I considered yelling over to Rege that if he got out, “Tell Sandy and the kids I’m sorry, and tell them that I love them.” Then I remembered my grandchildren— and I got angry— Angry that I’d mentally chosen to ignore all the signs that the ice was becoming unstable. Angry that my falling in had resulted in Rege going through the ice— Infuriated that I was in no position to render assistance to Rege, then I became enraged that if I didn’t get out, he would have to deal with this the rest of his life.

    On shore, Jay raced for his truck and extracted a boat cushion he’d brought along as an afterthought. Ron grabbed Jay’s cell phone and began dialing 911 for assistance, while Jay raced back down the unimproved boat launch and came back out onto the ice. After getting Rege’s attention, he threw the cushion from 30-yards away, hitting Rege right in the face and hands. When Jay returned to shore, Ron handed him the phone and told him that he’d already dialed 911 several times, but the location wasn’t conducive to reception because the boat launch was in a small valley. Heading toward the top of the hill Jay continued walking and dialing, and on his ninth attempt, he finally got through.

    While Jay was frantically dialing for help, Ron had gotten in the back of Jay’s truck and begun tying together orange extension cords Jay uses when building decks. When the 911-operator finally got on the line, Jay had to spend five minutes convincing them to send a rescue team instead of divers. He had to explain that the men in the lake were still alive rather than dead, and that a dive team was unnecessary. Returning to the truck, he helped Ron finish tying together the extension cords, then together they ran back out onto the ice, but when Ron was thirty yards offshore heading towards Rege, he again broke through the ice. Fortunately for Ron, he rolled to the side and barely got wet. Backing toward shore, Ron threw the impromptu extension cord rope toward Rege, and together Ron and Jay spent the next few minutes pulling Rege to safety.

    Every early and late season trip we’ve ever been on together, we have without fail, always carried or worn life jackets, and taken along a long length of rope. Because I’d borrowed my daughter’s new 4-WD vehicle I hadn’t remembered the life jackets until we were halfway to the lake, and at that moment I cursed the oversight. Remembering that my shanty was made of wood, I grabbed the pull rope and eased it into the water. Unfortunately I forgot that I had tied it to the aluminum sled I’d made to make traveling on snow-covered ice, much easier. It floated. I stretched myself across the shanty and was half out of the water. I took comfort in the thought that it would take longer for me to succumb to hypothermia now, but before that happened, someone would get me out. Within one minute the aluminum tubing filled with water and the shanty began sinking.

    Hoping I was out of the channel, I held on to the pull rope placing my feet on the upturned edge, praying that it would stand on end when it reached the bottom, that way I’d still be partially out of the water. I was almost completely underwater when I finally remembered that it was tied to the aluminum sled. Trying to pull it back toward the surface, one hand tried to untie the knot holding it to the sled, but when I began to be pulled underwater by its weight, I let it go and grabbed the edge of the ice. The ice gave way and I got a mouth full of water. Remembering a news item I’d just seen of a policeman rescuing children who had broken through an icy lake, I used my elbow as a hammer, battering the ice until I found solid purchase, rested my elbow atop the ice, got my breathing under control, and chased away the omnipresent thoughts of dying.

    Ten Minutes
    As I hung on the edge of the ice I knew that with the shanty sinking into the channel, there was absolutely no way I would be able to extract myself from the water, the ice kept breaking off as soon as it got wet, I was about out of options. I yelled over to Rege and asked him how he was doing. I actually planned to tell him how much I loved him, and the moments we’d shared on ball fields, in the woods, in our canoes, and even fighting with each other. Like attempting to send a last message through him to my family, it seemed like an act of capitulation, and I wasn’t ready to quit yet, or discourage him.

    As I listened, I thought I heard him yell that he’d gotten out, but then thought I was having an audio hallucination. I strained my eyes to look across the frozen expanse of gray-white ice to see how many people were silhouetted against the lights of the church, but I could only see two people. Then I heard Rege yelling for Jay and Ron to run up to the other boat launch and grab the ice rescue gear. His voice was no longer coming from the direction where he’d gone in. He was out and safe— I was so thankful I wanted to cry.

    When I heard the fire whistles going off at the volunteer fire department about a mile up the road, I knew the troops had been mobilized and all I had to do was hang on. That was easier said than done. The ice was like thin peanut brittle, shattering into little pieces with any attempt to put weight on it. Each time it broke I had to expend more energy using my elbow to batter the bad ice away until I got to firmer ice. If I had a life jacket on, I could have battered the ice until I got to the shoreline, or at least shallower water. Looking at the now gaping hole, I spotted the five-gallon plastic bucket with the Styrofoam minnow bucket shoved inside floating a short distance away. Side stroking over to the bucket, I reached out, grabbed it, and made my way back over to the edge of the ice. Closing the lid over the top of the minnow bucket, I inverted the plastic bucket and shoved it under the water and put my weight over the top. It worked— I now had a makeshift life preserver, and my life expectancy had been extended.

    Fifteen Minutes
    I couldn’t see anything along the shoreline except the bright lights from the church, but I could intermittently hear the red wooden, ice-rescue cross, being dragged down the hill. Then I heard Jay and Ron arguing with Rege, trying to talk him out of going back on the ice to rescue me. I’ve spent many years arguing a number of issues with Rege, and I know that when his mind is made up he’s going to do whatever he thinks is right despite any consequences. I wanted out of the water, but I didn’t want Rege to die trying to save me. I could hear the cross sliding across the ice, and Rege yelling for them to give him more line. When they told him that he’d reached the end of the rope, he told them to let it go he’d go on alone.

    With one of my arms on the ice and the other holding the five-gallon bucket to my abdomen, I could feel and hear the ice squeaking like it does when someone pulls on the handle of an ice cube tray. The ice was giving under the weight of Rege’s soaking wet clothing, and he was moments away from ending up back in the water. At that moment I wanted him safe more than I wanted out of the water. I yelled, “Rege! Get back on shore I can feel the ice giving under your weight. Someone has to survive! Will you please go back to shore!”

    When Rege turned back to shore, I felt a sense of euphoria that he had listened to me, but feelings of desolation crept in knowing that I’d have to wait alone, hang on for a little longer and continue to be creative. My life depended on me now— I thought about my wife, my family, and the number of times Rege and our girls had been on the ice with me, all without incident. I reflected on football games Rege and I had played in; canoe trips for smallmouths, hot summer days working together underneath our trucks, how our kids had played together through the years, and how he’d guided me to my first whitetail buck.

    My calves were numb now, but my thoughts were still clear as I leaned over the plastic bucket life preserver staring at the edge of the ice, and looking at the shards of ice floating around me. The only other item floating in the water was my ball cap, with my license pinned to the back. My granddaughter, Victoria, had cut all of her teeth on the bill of that cap, and for an instant, I considered swimming over to retrieve it, but decided it wasn’t worth the energy expenditure.

    Rege, Jay, and Ron, were yelling at me, fear in their voices, asking if I were still afloat, exhorting me to keep talking so they would know how I was doing. Looking in their direction I could see the lights from the church splintered into millions of tiny, multicolored pinpoints of light refracted in every direction. I yelled back, “They better hurry up guys, my legs are getting numb. I have about five minutes left.”

    Twenty Minutes
    The words were no sooner out of my mouth, when the red, white, and blue lights of the rescue vehicles began to wend their way around the bend of the road toward the boat launch and the edge of the ice. The weight of my soggy, clothing was beginning to pull me down lower in the water. The water was now above my lips, and I had to tilt my head back to scream toward shore, “Rege, tell them they better hurry up.” I could hear panic creeping back into my voice. Suddenly, the ice supporting my elbow gave way, and I slipped lower as the water washed up over my nose. Kicking hard, I tried to reestablish an elbow rest on the ice, but each time I touched it the ice gave way. The bucket didn’t seem as buoyant as it had been, then I realized the trapped air had escaped when the bucket had tilted to one side when the ice had given way. I had to get more air in the bucket. Looking toward shore, I noticed the Styrofoam lid had broken free and washed up on the ice. I struggled to get to the lid, lifted the bucket overhead, allowed my head to slip below water level, replaced the lid, and again forced it below water level. Immediately I popped back to the surface once again riding high in the water. Kicking my feet, I angled myself toward the edge of the ice and had to use my elbow to batter off three feet of ice before I could rest my elbow on solid ice, but least my neck was above water again.

    Kicking to stay afloat, I strained to hear what was being said on shore, but could only make out mumbling. I called out, “What’s going on Rege?”

    “What are they doing?” I thought to myself.

    A voice responded, “Hang on fella, we’re coming. We’re getting ready right now.”

    I was cold, soaked, fearful, and angry, when I responded, “Well you better hurry up. What’s taking so long?” My answer was silence—

    The lights from the rescue equipment brightened the scene making the ice almost solid white again. As the lights played tag in the ice chips surrounding me, they reminded me of pinpoints of light racing around a dance floor. The fingers of my right hand were above water and getting stiff. I began opening and closing my hand trying to warm the rigid digits. Letting go of the ice, I slipped the hand into the water and cracked my knuckles, something I’ve done for years to make my cold fingers warm again. I brought my hand above water to rest the elbow on the ice, but when the elbow touched the ice, the edge broke away.

    Twenty-five Minutes
    Reaching out to find the edge of the ice, each stroke touched only floating shards of broken ice. Had a large section broken away? Had I drifted away from the edge of the ice? I didn’t know. I kicked and stroked until my shoulder bumped the main edge of the ice. Reaching way up onto the shelf, I rested while I looked into the darkness behind me. I could see that my struggles had widened a one-man hole into a ten-meter opening.

    The voices of Rege and Jay refocused my attention toward the shoreline. “Mike! Mike!” I could hear the desperation in their voices. It mimicked the emotions I was feeling inside. How long had I been silent? I didn’t know.

    “I’m here,” I yelled back, hearing weariness in my voice. My body began shivering, and I clenched my teeth trying to keep it at bay.

    From the direction of the lights I heard voices mumbling, then the sound of scraping aluminum. I know the sound well. I’ve got an old 18’ aluminum canoe I once carried on my shoulders through the woods to get to secluded lakes. I knew that sound intimately. This was the first sign that there was actually any activity to get to me, other than Rege’s unselfish willingness to sacrifice his own life. I’d seen vehicle after vehicle come down the hill, each set of lights making both the scene, and my condition somehow cheerier. I’d seen the fire trucks come down with their lights twirling, and I felt guilt at having dragged their crews out of warm homes for an act of stupidity that could have been avoided had we paid attention to the obvious. I watched an ambulance back down the hill, saw the back doors open, and through the light pollution, watched ghostly figures make preparations for that moment I would be dragged from the lake— no matter what condition I was in.

    “Mike! Are you okay?” Inquiring voices yelled from the shore. I’d been silent again.

    “Hey guy, talk to us. We need to know you’re all right.”

    “All right?” The question raced through my mind transforming itself into the hideous unspoken,

    “Hey guy talk to us. We need to know if you’re still afloat.”

    My legs were going numb now, and it was becoming difficult to feel the clothing rubbing against my legs. “I’m still here, but I’m becoming pretty hypothermic. My legs are starting to go numb. You’d better hurry up.” I responded.

    I flashed back to a rainy, opening day of a past archery season, a day spent under a cold drizzle among golden falling leaves, when late in the day after seeing nothing all morning and afternoon, eight whitetail bucks suddenly appeared out of the thin fog at the edge of a field. I’d watched them sparring for a half hour before a broad beamed eight-point walked to within 13 yards and stopped broadside. When I’d attempted to draw my bow, the muscles in my arms were incapable of drawing back the bow. I’d had to let down on the string. When I attempted a second draw, the bow rolled over smooth as butter because the muscles had been warmed by the first attempt. I began furiously kicking my legs, trying to restore circulation and keep the muscles functioning. I still needed them in order to stay afloat; later I might not have a chance for a second draw.

    Thirty Minutes
    I thought about the fish that had been in the bottom of one of the other five-gallon buckets. Wondering how many of them had recovered, and how many had gone to waste. Then the irony of the situation hit me, I’d taken tens of thousands of fish from this lake over the past quarter century, and before the evening was over they might have the opportunity to have me on their dinner table. It seemed fair. The thought brought comfort, almost like justice was about to be served.

    Everything I had brought out onto the ice was now on the bottom of the lake, auger, rods, reels, hundreds of dollars worth of ice ants, tip-ups, stove, lantern, shanty, everything except for the clothing I was wearing. I was glad that I had put on my insulated jacket, and until the ice had proven so brittle, I’d considered removing the jacket, laying it on the edge of the ice and hoisting myself back to safety, but each time a new section of ice became exposed to the open lake water it immediately became weak and gave way.

    Although I couldn’t hear what Rege was saying to the members of the rescue party, just hearing his voice and knowing he was safe was a comforting factor. I was becoming agitated at the length of time it was taking them to get their resources mobilized and in the water. In my anger I called toward shore, “Rege, what the heck are they doing? What’s taking so long? I’ve only got about five minutes left.”

    A voice hollered back, “Hang on fella, we’re moving right now.” Again I could hear aluminum scraping on the ice, and could hear a group of voices heatedly discussing some issue, but the distance distorted their words, like the light being dispersed by the ice chunks. Loud enough to hear, but too far away to make any sense of what was being said.

    The shivering increased in intensity. I could audibly hear my teeth chattering. Hypothermia was beginning to make new inroads into my safety and well-being. In the beginning I was scared that the amount of clothing I was wearing might fill with water and pull me below the surface, or that I might drown before being able to have a chance to try and save myself, but that hadn’t happened.

    Cold water was lapping at my nose when I realized the bucket had tilted and the air had escaped again. Lifting the bucket overhead, I dumped out the water, and forced it down under the water, and once again the bucket allowed me to pop back up above the surface. This time there had been no fear accompanying the maneuver, it had become a survival routine.

    Thinking that they might not know exactly where I was, I reached down for the Styrofoam minnow bucket lid, and with my right hand attempted to scrape ice chips into a pile to brace the lid as a reference point for my rescuers, but the lid wouldn’t stay upright so I slipped it back into place against the bucket’s opening believing that a little more buoyancy couldn’t hurt.

    As I stared at the lights on shore, I gazed up at the little church on the hill worried I had disturbed the evening services. I reflected upon how many sermons I’d enjoyed as I sat on a round plastic pew catching perch and crappies while the parishioners were warm and snug inside. I made a mental note to one day go inside and listen to a sermon with the rest of the congregation, wondering how many other ice-fishermen had considered doing the same thing. Then I remembered two other ice-fishermen had gone through the ice right in front of the church last year, but they hadn’t made it. I chased the thought away by thinking about the “chipmunks,” a pet name for two of my grandchildren, A.J., and Samantha. I’d promised to take them ice-fishing later in the season. I still wanted to fulfill that promise even though I would have to buy new gear— for all of us.

    Thirty-five Minutes
    A chorus of voices called my name imploring me to answer. I’d lost track of time for quite a while caught up in my own reflections. I didn’t feel sleepy or tired; in fact I was to the point that my body didn’t really feel anything. That thought disturbed me.

    “I’m still here.” I taunted them. “My body is going numb.” I moved the hand holding the bucket, but sensed it more than actually feeling it. I positioned the bucket against my abdomen and though I could feel pressure, I could no longer feel its sharp plastic edges. My legs felt completely nonexistent. I had to mentally go deep inside my mind and down into my legs from within, in order to know whether they had ceased functioning or were still kicking, Again I yelled, “I’ve got only about five minutes left,” wondering if they were as tired of hearing it as I was of saying it.

    I stared at the lights and wondered if there was really anybody on the shoreline. Off in the distant darkness to my left I heard a familiar sound that brought an instant feeling of exhilaration, and a renewed sense of hope. The sound of chopper blades spanking the cold air caused me to begin searching the sky for the source. I flashed back thirty years to Vietnam, and being in similar circumstances when the sound of chopper blades represented security, re-supply, mail, hot food, new troops, and a host of other things to look forward too. When that chopper finally popped over the hilltop with it’s shimmering spotlight glaring into my eyes, I knew that a whole group of new resources was at hand. I was saved.

    As the chopper passed between the assembled rescue-vehicles and the church on the hill then banked over the lake, I began worrying about the crew inside. Old habits die hard. I’d seen chopper pilots attempt the impossible before and most of them made it, but I’d also seen hope end up as a pile of charred bodies and twisted, melted wreckage. I remembered a chopper pilot losing power when he flared over the landing zone on final approach to Firebase Airborne. When the Huey hit the ground the rotor blades flexed, then snapped, sending rotor blade shards whirring in every direction, the torque flipping the aircraft over on its side.

    I’d seen what was about to happen and dove into a foxhole as a six-foot section of rotor blade whistled overhead, burying itself a foot deep in the dirt mound above my foxhole. I leaped from my foxhole sprinting toward the downed aircraft because one of the crew had somehow been pinned under the skids when it had flipped, and the aircraft was afire. We’d rocked the flaming aircraft until the crewmember could be pulled to safety. All of these memories flashed through my mind as the aircraft banked and turned back toward me.

    When the pilot dropped his craft toward the frozen lake surface and began angling toward me, the spotlight, now a circle of bright white, sprinted directly at me. Plumes of spray from the melt off that had occurred during the day, turned into writhing rainbows when they were whipped into the air and exposed to light from shore. I watched the gusts from the rotor wash approaching me, saw the ice sheet undulating from the overpressure, and felt thousands of shards of broken ice sting my face and hands with their impact. I’d tilted my head down and away to avoid the onslaught, and as the turbulence subdued I looked up to see a skid slowly inching sideways toward me.

    For some reason I’d expected to see a jungle-penetrator hanging outside the door, that or some device with which I might tether myself to a cable for extraction. As the skid neared the edge of the ice, I let go of the bucket and wrapped my left hand over the cold metal of the skid, and brought my right hand up intending to clutch the left so the chopper could either lift me or drag me toward shore. I hadn’t quite closed my right hand over my left when the chopper attempted to climb. I hadn’t been set, and the weight of my wet clothing, and the numbed, weakened condition of my hands prevented me from hanging on. I flopped back into the water like a dead fish.

    Forty Minutes
    The chopper hadn’t lifted me more than eight or ten inches out of the water before my arms slipped from the skid, but the rotor wash pushed my bucket all the way to the opposite side of the hole that had now been enlarged to 20-yards. Eyes on the bucket, I agonizingly sidestroked my way across the ever widening opening, fearful that my clothing would begin pulling me under the water. I grabbed the bucket, inverted it, wrapped myself tightly around it, and took a breather.

    I thought the chopper’s arrival would mean instant extraction, but it hadn’t come to pass. I watched it circle, wondering if he’d make another pass, instead it disappeared over the hill behind the church. Elation and hopes for an immediate end to this ordeal began to ebb. I slowly, kicked my way back across the sea of ice chips, and for the first time felt the stings on my face where the spray of fractured shards had pummeled me. At least my face wasn’t numb.

    When my shoulder nudged the jagged edge of the ice sheet, I tried to rest my arm on the ledge but it just kept breaking away. I was angrier now than before, everywhere my hand tried to find purchase it found nothing but more broken pieces of ice. The hand was numb now, all feeling had ceased in my fingers, and only by watching where my hand was placed could I tell if it was in the water or out.

    I came close to panic. Frantic, my arm began swiping at the ice. One second I’d think I’d found a place to support some of my weight, the next second the ledge would break away again. My hand was beginning to ache from the cold, when I noticed that I’d slipped lower in the water. I looked down at the bucket and saw that it was almost parallel to the water and as a result, the trapped air had escaped. I lost count of how many times I’d had to go underwater to pour out the water and refill it with air, but I did it once again. I was functioning on instinct now, both hands were completely numb, and my legs---did I have any? When I repositioned the bucket against my abdomen I did it visually; I had no feeling in my lower body— then someone began calling my name again.

    When I responded, my words were slurred, passing over chattering teeth. “It’s g-getting b-bad. I’m really hypothermic n-now.” My speech patterns were in staccato bursts; “I don’t have any f-feeling in my h-hands or f-feet. I only have about f-five m-minutes left.” I sounded drunk; I tasted blood in my mouth, I’d bitten my tongue, and cheek responding to whomever was yelling from shore.

    From the shoreline shadows I heard someone say, “He’s really getting bad now. Did you hear him slurring his words?” I listened to their words, and for the first time since I’d fashioned my own PFD out of the minnow bucket, I wondered if they would make it in time. Where I once sought ways to stay afloat and extricate myself from this ordeal, I now considered the reality of how long I could be submerged under water before attempts to revive me would prove futile. Tremors wracked my body while I wondered whether I’d have time to shout out a final message for Rege to pass on to family members, before I went into full cardiac arrest.

    Forty-five Minutes
    I heard indistinct talking on shore, but I couldn’t make out the words. I was in bad shape, wondering if I’d even make the five minutes I’d just told them I had. As I gazed at the shoreline, I thought I heard the faint sound of a small motor, but figured it was just trucks passing across Route 528 Bridge. To my right front, a red aluminum boat materialized out of the fog and darkness like a wraith. I counted four people aboard. The sound of motor became more distinct as it passed close by, circled around and stopped fifteen yards away. I think the only time in my life I’ve ever been happier was watching my daughters be born. I don’t know if I had reached the point of exhaustion, or I was just happy to see the boat— I didn’t move.

    A voice asked, “Think you can swim over here?”

    “Sure,” I responded, but made no attempt to move.



    Then the voice said, “Well how about doing it?”



    I had become incapable of functioning without being directed to do so. The voice had given instructions, so I crabbed sideways over to the boat still dragging my bucket behind me, and threw my right arm over the gunwale. Feeling something solid, something that didn’t break away when I touched it, was exhilarating.

    Hands grabbed at my arm and the voice said, “We’re going to pull you into the boat now, but before we do that you’re going to have to let go of the bucket.”

    I hesitated; I didn’t want to let go of the bucket. The prop wash from the helicopter had almost blown it away; if I’d have lost it I wouldn’t have been able to hang on until the boat arrived. I wanted to take it with me. It was all I had left of my ice-fishing equipment. I thought it had earned the right to go with me— I reluctantly let it go.

    I don’t remember reaching up to the gunwale with my left hand, but suddenly my back against the side of the boat with one person holding each arm over my head. The voice said, “This may hurt some.”

    “At this point, I really don’t care.” I responded.

    I was hoisted into the boat backwards and found myself sitting on a seat. I was physically exhausted; images were distorted, pieces were missing, like watching dancers on a stage bathed in the strobe lights.

    Someone wrapped a blanket around my shoulders as I mumbled, “If you guys have everything under control and don’t mind, I think I’m going to let you guys do the rest. I’m just going to take it easy.” Then I collapsed, falling over backwards onto the floor of the boat.

    I don’t remember the ride back to shore at all. The first recollection of still being alive came when I heard Rege say, “Here they come. Someone has to grab the boat when it hits the launch.”

    When the boat bumped against the concrete slope of the boat launch, I felt a rocking motion as hands grabbed me, and faceless voices began chanting in unison, “Ready? On three! One! Two! Three!”

    I couldn’t identify voices or tell how many people were around me, but I was lifted, then dropped on the gunwale of the boat, lifted again and set on a gurney. I blacked out for a few seconds and only remember feeling the overpressure of the helicopter blades as they bathed my body with cold air.

    When the gurney bumped the side of the helicopter I looked up and saw the ceiling panels of the chopper bathed in white. I thought to myself, “God, it’s thirty years since I’ve been med-evaced— here we go again—

    I felt that peculiar sensation when a chopper lifts off the ground, then felt scissors beginning to cut along the inside of my calf and I could only think of the expensive clothing they were destroying with each snip. “What are you doing?” I asked.

    “Getting this cold wet clothing off of you,” a feminine voice responded.

    I was too tired to respond, but thought to myself, “Why don’t they just unzip them,” then, “I don’t even care,” and I succumbed to darkness.

    The Hospital
    I awoke to a world of bright white light, and the feeling of being enveloped in a cocoon of warmth. The first recollection of still being alive was when a pair of hands rolled me over on my side and someone attempted to insert something inside my body. Agitated, I asked, “What are you doing?”

    A voice from outside the bright white halo answered, “Just inserting a probe to measure your core body temperature.” A few seconds later the probe was extracted and the voice said, “His core temperature is up to 93-degrees, he’s going to make it.”

    A face blotted out the brightness, as a feminine voice asked, “What’s your name?”

    I had to clench my teeth in order to answer. I must have mumbled because the voice repeated the question, and I had to repeat my answer. Trying to move, plastic tubes impeding my movement.

    What’s this?” I asked, eyes closed, fingers holding up a piece of tubing.

    “A catheter,” a voice answered, “and there are tubes in your arms as well. We had to give you warm Ringer’s in order to bring your body temperature back up. Lie still, you’ll be fine.”

    As much as I wanted to lie back and be still, tremors sprinted up and down my entire body. I had to clench my teeth together so my teeth would quit sending out Morse code. I passed out again.

    Once again I awakened to that intrusive hand with the probe, picked up my head for the first time, and saw figures standing around me in surgical scrubs watching my every move. “Where am I?” I asked.

    “Presbyterian Hospital. Do you remember coming in?”

    “No.” I replied, “The last thing I remember were the blades of the helicopter when they were putting me on board. And I remember them cutting off my clothes.” I was again shivering violently. Hands were rolling me over, packing warm blankets under my back, along my sides, and around my head. What a heavenly feeling.

    As the warmth began penetrating my whole body, another voice inquired, “Do you know what happened to you?”

    “Yes, an act of stupidity. I went through the ice at Lake Arthur and had to be life-flighted.” I replied.

    “He’s back with us, he remembers what happened and how he got here. He’ll be ok.”

    Another voice broke in saying, “I’m getting some heart arrhythmia, but that’s to be expected after what he’s been through.” Then the shivering began again. I lay back trying to control it, but it wouldn’t stop.

    The next time I woke up, I felt like I was breaking into a sweat and the shivering was gone. “Sir,” a young man said, “we’re going to admit you for tonight because your heartbeat is erratic, but that’s normal for patients that are suffering from hypothermia. We’re going to give you some drugs that will hopefully stabilize your heartbeat soon, and once that happens, we will probably release you. As far as the trauma department is concerned we’re releasing you, but we’re turning you over to the cardiac department until they say you’re ok, they will be the one’s that send you home.”

    I was upset that I wasn’t going home and knew my wife would be worried sick. All I wanted to do was walk through the front door and let her know I was fine.

    I was thirsty and famished— I hadn’t eaten all day. I looked at the clock on the wall and realized that it had been five minutes since I’d had the chills. Sweat was running into my eyes, I was getting hotter by the second. I tried kicking off the blankets, but with the sudden exertion, my calves, hamstrings, quads, and groin muscles all cramped simultaneously. I screamed— I was in extreme agony. I thrashed the bed, rolling to the left then back to the right, but I had no control— my legs wouldn’t move independently. I tried lying back on the bed to allow them to relax, but the ache increased until I had to move. I attempted to use my hands to move one leg, but the fingers had no feeling in them. I tried to bend one knee, and screamed. The doctor who’d informed me about the heart arrhythmia ran in asking what the problem was. When I told him about the pain, he said, “That’s to be expected. The muscles have had a lot of exercise, and they’re stiff from being so cold. Here, I’ll help you move them.” He rolled me over onto my side, and then left the room. The relief didn’t last but seconds. I knew I would have to make myself comfortable through actions of my own.

    Just as I was about to grab the bed railings and try lifting myself up again, Rege walked through the door of the hospital room with Bob Miller, my future-son-in law. Tears filled my eyes— I was so glad to see Rege standing there. When he had fallen through and begun yelling, it sounded like he was in greater danger of drowning than I was, but fortunately for him, the quick actions of Jay and Ron had him out of the water in less than five minutes.

    We’ve been through some pretty hairy stuff over the past twenty-five years, but this was by far the worst. Although I was glad to see him, the pain in my legs was completely unbearable. I asked Rege to give me a hand sitting up. When he grabbed my hands so I could use him for leverage, the muscles in my lower body refused to cooperate, both legs felt like metal posts, and although the muscles were screaming in protest, I couldn’t feel Rege’s hands on my legs. The nerves were deadened from prolonged exertion and immersion in the lake’s icy waters. It took both Bob and Rege to lift my legs and manually bend them before the pain began to abate. As I leaned back to take a deep breath, Rege first asked what my prognosis was, and then told me the frustration Jay, Ron, and he had experienced while watching and waiting for the rescue personnel to get me out of the lake.

    As Rege tells it, none of them knew that I had been hanging on to the bucket. They thought I was alternately swimming and hanging on to the edges of the ice to rest. Wet and cold after his own extraction, he had run up to the other boat launch to grab the wooden cross used for ice rescue, and started out on to the ice to get to me. He said he could feel the ice bowing, but was determined not to leave me in the water. They had tied the extensions cords to the rope on the wooden cross hoping that they’d be able to toss the life ring to me once they got close enough, but when the ice began to give way while he was still 100-yards out, he was forced to go back to shore.

    He chronicled that four divers had attempted to use a canoe to get to me, but “The ice wouldn’t allow them to stand upright without breaking through.” When he saw the searchlight from the helicopter swing across me, he said that that was the first time they had an “exact fix on my position since darkness had fallen.” Because he couldn’t see the bucket I was hanging on to, when I ducked under the water to avoid the flying shards of ice from the prop wash of the chopper blades, he thought I had finally succumbed, and that the chopper had arrived seconds too late, but then he saw my hands wrap themselves around the skids of the life-flight, and thought it wouldn’t be long before I’d be out of the water.

    While Rege continued telling me about what had been happening ashore, the hospital personnel began moving the gurney to take me upstairs to my room. As I wheeled out of the ER, Rege said he was heading home to finally take a hot shower. He had just run in the door, changed into dry clothes, and dashed to the hospital to see me.

    After arriving in the room and helping lift me into bed, the cardiac doctor told me they were going to give me medication that would hopefully cause the arrhythmia to abate by morning, then stated, “If there is anything else we can get for you, all you have to do is ask us, and we’ll provide it.”

    I told the doctor, “I’ve been on the lake since daybreak, haven’t eaten all day, and I could really go for some food, and either a big cup of tea, or a mug of coffee.”

    The doctor looked at the nurse standing next to him, and as they exchanged a small set of smiles, he informed me that because of the arrhythmia he didn’t really want me to eat or drink anything heavy until morning, but that they would get me something. Minutes after the nurses and doctors left the room, an aide returned and handed me a Styrofoam cup— filled to the top with ice chips—

    Aftermath—Day One
    I’ve begun typing this immediately after my release. My fingers feel like sausages, and the hand that was submerged in the water has much more feeling than the one that was hanging on to the ice. It is difficult to type. I cannot feel the keys beneath my fingertips, but have to look at them, or spend time correcting what’s been written. I have almost no feeling in my legs below the knees— My groin, quads, and calves feel like they are almost completely solid. I lament the loss of my shanty, ice auger, ice rods, my special hat, lanterns, tip ups, assorted ice lures, and a few hundred dollars worth of warm fishing/hunting clothing— but that is all replaceable. I cannot wait to get back on the ice and catch some fish. I am grateful to everyone that took part in getting me out of the water.

    Day Three
    I awakened tonight with horrendous nightmares—I was back in the water struggling to survive. I awakened sweating, and the sheets were soaking wet and wrapped tightly around me from my thrashing. I have misgivings about going back on the ice. Perhaps they will pass in time.

    Two Months Later
    It’s been two months since I belatedly joined the Polar Bear Club, after going through the ice on Lake Arthur, at Moraine State Park in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I’ve taken a lot of teasing from friends, acquaintances, and business associates as a result.

    Each has told me exactly what s/he was doing when they received the news from a mutual friend, or saw the event unfold on television; some were eating, others reading the newspaper, while yet others just happened to be walking from one room to another. All of them expressed shock at having been in the comfort of their homes, listening to the newscaster talking about a near drowning in a lake close by, only to hear my name mentioned, and then late the next day looking up to see my face talking to a camera from a hospital bed.

    It is strange to listen to people you’ve known for years actually expressing their feelings toward you, how much they really do care, and the impact you have had on their lives, or the lives of their family members over the years. I say this phenomenon is unusual, because all too often it is your family members that hear these words, and learn about how much others care about you, and this usually occurs only at funeral services. I am a lucky man—

    The aftereffects of this incident continue. I do not have much feeling in my legs from the calves down and across my ankles, but luckily my toes suffered no problems because the boots kept warm water trapped inside. Although this was typed immediately after arriving home from the hospital by fingers that were afire and difficult to manipulate from frostbite, today, all feeling has returned to the digits, and I expect no lingering problems.

    More than a month after going through the ice, I returned to the lake for my first post accident ice-fishing experience. I no longer have an auger, shanty, rods, lanterns, or tip-ups, everything is at the bottom of the lake, and medical personnel cut my cold weather clothing off of me, but I did return. Today, I do not lament the loss of the gear, even though the shanty was a 20th anniversary gift from my wife, my camo-mittens were once a Christmas gift from a long departed friend, and my hat, well my granddaughter cut all of her teeth on the brim of that hat—Over time, all of these things will be replaced. The most precious thing is that I still have my life.

    That first trip back was extremely important. From the time of the accident until I stepped back on that same lake, there was not one night’s sleep that wasn’t interrupted by a nightmare that found me struggling against ice and cold to stay alive. I would awaken sweating, hair and sheets soaked, my heart trying to claw its way out of my chest. After six weeks of nightmares, I knew that the only way to get rid of them was to return to Lake Arthur, make friends with the experience, and go back out on the lake.

    When that morning finally arrived and I climbed into Bo Freeman’s truck to head to the lake, I was both apprehensive and overjoyed to be going back out. Arriving at the hill above the frozen lake I admired the beauty before me, and gave thanks to God for my life. Looking across the lake I knew immediately just where I’d drill my first hole, and I knew why I loved ice fishing so much.

    As we walked down the hill toward the lake, Bo asked, “Mike, do you want me to go out first.”

    “Not a chance my friend!” I replied. After stopping at the curled, opaque edge of the ice sheet to admire the beauty of this frozen wonder, I stepped out on the ice and yelled to the lake, ”Well, you didn’t get me did you? I’m back!”

    As I took my first step out onto slick surface of the new ice, my feet immediately went out from underneath me and I landed flat on my back. I lay there laughing hysterically— Lake Arthur got in the last word—

    The Rescue: A Firefighter’s Perspective
    (Mark Lauer, firefighter/diver/paramedic from the Centerville Volunteer Fire Department, Center Township, Butler, PA, provided the following information about the rescue that evening.)

    “Just after dusk on January 2, 2002, we received a call that several fishermen had broken through the ice near 528 Bridge. We are called upon to perform ice rescue 2-8 times per year, and ninety percent of our operations are on state property. On that day seven people broke through the ice on Lake Arthur, in Moraine State Park; of the seven, six were able to extract themselves from the water.

    In our fire department we have approximately eleven individuals qualified in various phases of diving. Ten of these individuals live within one mile of the fire department. Within six minutes of receiving the call, four other divers, two additional personnel, and myself, had cleared the station and were en route to the lake.

    Arriving at the lake we discovered that three individuals had gone into the lake, but two were able to either extract themselves, or be extracted from the water by others. One individual was still in the water approximately two hundred yards offshore. Throughout the rescue, we encountered problem after problem. The ice had been six inches thick when the day began, but the warm weather had weakened the ice as the day progressed. Initially we donned our scuba gear and tried to walk out a canoe to pull the fisherman from the water. As we walked across the ice we could hear it fracturing beneath our feet, and we hadn’t quite covered half the distance to the individual in the water when we ourselves began to break through the ice. Instead of being able to rescue the person in the water, we were hampered by ice that kept breaking, and the fact that we had to keep pulling each other from the water. The decision was made that to continue was too hazardous for us, and that we’d have to find another means to get the fisherman out of the water.

    When we returned to shore, we called back to the station for the sixteen-foot Lund, an aluminum boat we use for rescue during warmer weather. The difficulty was that the boat ramp was still encased in ice, and we had to use sledgehammers to break up the ice to get the boat in. After launching the boat, four of us took turns using sledgehammers to break the ice in font of the boat. It took us 30-40 minutes to cover the first 125 yards.

    When the helicopter arrived on the scene, we thought they would be able to get him out, but he couldn’t hang on to the skid, and things were looking very grim for him. The rescuers in the helicopter attempted to throw him an orange life ring so he could stay afloat, but the prop wash blew it away from him. When we were finally able to get close to the patient, we circled around him to break up the ice, but when we did, the rope attached to the life ring tangled in the prop, so we had to have him swim over to us while we cut the rope away from the prop. Fortunately for us we were able to get him into the boat and back to the boat launch to be flown to the hospital. At the end of the evening, everyone was physically exhausted.”

    Ice Facts
    The incident described above was caused by failure to heed what the ice itself was telling me. Nature always speaks to us, but we become so familiar with circumstances surrounding an outing, or are so eager to take part in an outdoor activity, that we become deafened to Nature’s messages. In retrospect, I placed my desire to fish above common sense, and allowed selfishness, pride, and ego, to override logic. After taking two steps out onto the ice that day, I knew with certainty that ice conditions were at best marginal, and the ice was becoming unstable, but I didn’t open my mouth to express any reservations simply because I wanted to fish. It was an annual event we’d taken part in for well over a decade, and I didn’t want the string to be broken. Foolishness— Not only did I almost lose my own life, but by keeping silent I also jeopardized the life of an individual that I love, and with whom I’ve shared many outdoor adventures.

    Never compromise your ice-fishing safety standards. Yes, first and last ice can be the best periods to catch both big fish, and numbers of fish, but they are also the most dangerous ice fishing periods of the season. Warm water is pouring into the lake, and wherever a channel twists and turns across the bottom of a lake, warm water is carried along that hydrologic highway. Where you are standing can seem concrete solid with 14” of ice, while one step away warm water coming into the lake from several hundred yards away may have honeycombed the ice from below. Remember, thawing occurs both above and below the ice. Rainwater, no matter how cold, will run along fractures caused by the expansion of the ice rubbing against the shoreline, and within a few minutes what was once a safe expansion joint has been transformed into a waiting death trap, a trap door if you will. The unwary, and the experienced angler walking along this edge can cause the ice to tilt, the fisherman to fall sliding into the water, and then the ice quickly closes trapping the fisherman below the frigid surface.

    Whether you have years of experience, or are a novice ice-fisherman, if you don’t care to repeat my experience please heed the following cautions. The commonly accepted standard for safe ice is clear ice that is four inches or greater in thickness— But even that is not a guarantee that you will not break through. Ice which ponds, is honeycombed or spongy, is clearly unsafe. Areas which have a dark bottom from silt accumulation, or contain emergent weed growth from the previous season, will absorb and retain heat from the sun’s rays even in winter, and are one of the first areas to begin thawing when spring approaches. Bridge abutments not only contain large quantities of rock which draw baitfish and predator alike, but they also absorb heat from the sun, and collect runoff which contains huge quantities of salt from road maintenance. This is one area you should seek to avoid at all costs. Likewise, since the sun is south of the equator, northern shorelines receive the most direct sunlight during the day, and they too are areas where the ice will quickly weaken when warmer temperatures arrive. If you know of an area where a spring feeds into a lake, or snowmelt enters a lake, stay away— These areas consistently form thin ice or may not freeze over at all.

    If you are reading this you still have choices—

    After talking with diver/ rescuer’s, and various officials from different states since my own adventure, each individual suggested everyone wear a PFD during ALL periods of the ice-fishing season. Better yet, purchase a “float suit.” This device will keep the body level should you find yourself immersed in cold water, and aid you in extracting yourself quickly and efficiently. Stearns, and Buoy O Buoy manufacture excellent float suits that are warm, and well worth the money. It’s amazing that we’ll spend several hundred dollars on a rod and reel combination, or an expensive trip to a distant location for excellent fishing, but when it comes to aids that will enable us to enjoy our sport safely, we rationalize that purchasing such equipment is too expensive. When it comes to the decision making process, put that new fishing combo on the wish list, and purchase the safety equipment first.

    Never go out or come in alone.

    Each individual should carry, and have on their immediate person, ice picks to help them quickly crawl back atop the ice.

    Carry a 50-100’ length of rope.

    Exponentially, the longer you are immersed in the cold water the more rapidly hypothermia progresses, give yourself every advantage you can.

    Above all, if upon arrival at the lake your first thought says, “It doesn’t look good.”

    By God pay attention. It isn’t safe— I was lucky.
     
  15. PapawSmith

    PapawSmith Bud n Burgers

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    Sorry about that Mrphish42, this kind of crushed your thread. That wasn't my intent.
    I am now the king of all hijackers.
     
  16. Swedish spoon
     
  17. i have witnessed the hatchet also, along with chain saws and even a ball peen hammer. i saw a guy with an 8" spoon type auger, with his 7-8 yr. old boy standing on top of the blade. it took awhile, but it worked.lol i still have my old Mustad.;)
     

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  18. bassmastermjb

    bassmastermjb The Lucky One

    More like Space Shuttled to the moon!!!!
     
  19. iceberg

    iceberg meat dragger

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    well we once used a propane torch and a coffee can kept heating the rim of can an melting into the ice - that was after we learned u get real WET using an ax LOL
     
  20. mrphish42

    mrphish42 locators dont lie

    papawsmith.........Unless you have a patch over your eye......a large talking parrot on your shoulder......walk on a hand carved peg leg........ and a penchant to often loudly growl out rrrrrrgg/rrrrrrgg what say ye' or ahoy mat'e....I dont feel the least threatened by a hostile take over....hahaha.....THIS JUST BRINGS OUT WHAT I REALLY LIKE ABOUT OGF........REALLY GREAT GUYS SHARING....... EXPERIENCE/KNOWLEDGE/FRIENDSHIP/ PERSONAL OPINIONS. To (Brad) I say thank you for sharing your story with us........Jon Sr.