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More than 100 ice fishermen rescued

Warming temperatures, windy conditions, catch more than 130 off-guard in Ohio as ice shelf breaks away in Lake Erie

BY VICKI DESORMIER | OAK HARBOR, OH | February 7, 2009

One angler is dead after falling into the frigid waters of Lake Erie Saturday morning when an ice fishing expedition went bad for dozens out on the ice off the shores of the lake near Oak Harbor (between Sandusky and Toledo), OH.

While the warmer readings on the thermometer may have been a welcome relief to those hoping to hook some fish, the above freezing temperatures were a key ingredient in the recipe for danger for the fishermen. Coast Guard spokesman William Mitchell said that two days with temperatures in the upper 30s and even the low 40s had weakened the two foot thick ice. Winds, gusting to more than 35 miles per hour,  pushed a section with more than 130 anglers on it floating away from the safety of shore.

Witnesses told police that more than 100 fishermen apparently used wooden pallets to create a bridge over a narrow crack in the ice. Though the crack was all the way through the ice, the wind and weight on the outer piece pushed it rapidly away from the solid shore ice.

It is suspected the fishermen bridged the gap so they could go farther out on the lake to gain access to open water. As the wind moved the 8-mile wide chunk away from shore, the planks fell into the water leaving the fishermen with no connection to the land which was soon more than 1,000 yards away.

Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said the still-unidentified man fell into the water while looking for a way back to the shore. With water temperatures below 32 degrees, he could have died without being in the water very long. The official cause of death has not been released at this time.

The ice broke free from the Ohio shoreline at about 11 a.m. A rescue operation that involved 15 local law enforcement agencies and the Coast Guard took about five hours to complete. Helicopters and some ships carefully plucked the dozens of fishermen from the ice as it floated north in the lake throughout the afternoon.

By the time the sun went down, rescuers released a statement that said they believed that all the remaining people had been taken to safety. In all, 134 people were taken from the ice floe.

Bratton said his deputies and those from other departments, as well as the National Weather Service had been warning the fishermen that venturing out on the ice was not safe. Even after the portion of ice broke free, fishermen closer to safety had to be convinced to get away. Ice fishing, he said, is a way of life for many in the area and they are not likely to give up the practice even in light of this.

A spokesman for the Firelands Chapter of the Red Cross in nearby Sandusky said they provided blankets for the rescuers to bring to those stranded on the ice, but don't believe their services will be needed beyond that.

 


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