An urgent rescue Wednesday on Lake Champlain saw an ice fisherman hauled out of the frigid water after falling through the lake’s icy surface.
"No ice is safe ice," said Alburgh EMT Dan Rainville, repeating a familiar line about ice safety.
The rescue unfolded Wednesday morning on the Vermont side of the lake, near the bridge connecting Alburgh and Isle La Motte.
Alburgh Fire & Rescue said a man from Colchester fell through a weak spot in the ice on Lake Champlain, and was in the bone-chilling water by some estimates for five minutes as witnesses scrambled to help.
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Rainville said the rescue department treated the fisherman for mild symptoms of hypothermia and expect he’ll make a full recovery. He declined to be taken to the hospital, the EMT noted.
The fire and rescue department also helped in drying the man’s clothes and retrieving his fishing gear from the ice after the rescue, staff said.
Rainville said the quick thinking of other fishermen in the area made a world of difference in the positive outcome in the case.
Those fishermen didn’t want to get too close to the fallen man, because they worried they’d fall through the ice. So they threw him a long extension cord and pulled him to safety from a distance, first responders explained.
“He couldn’t move his legs when we got him out,” Rainville said, describing the seriousness of the man’s exposure to cold water. “He was just close to that point where he probably might not have been able to keep himself up on the ice shelf.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, Rainville got word that two other fishermen fell through the ice in the same general area.
No details on those falls were immediately available, but Rainville said it should underscore the importance of taking ice safety very seriously.
Ice fishing is a popular activity on Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways, and while it does come with some risks, most anglers do what they can to mitigate those and enjoy the outdoors.
“You try to play safe all the time,” said ice fisherman Mike Stell of Alburgh.
Stell wears ice picks around his neck, which he could use to claw his way back out if he were to fall in.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department urges folks to check and recheck ice thickness with an auger, looking for roughly four inches of clear ice to walk on, and twice that or more for a snowmobile or ATV.
Fish & Wildlife also encourages people to avoid ice that’s formed over flowing water, near the mouths of rivers or streams, or near springs, because it’s often softer.
Finally, Fish & Wildlife wants anglers to tell friends where they’ll be and to carry a cell phone in a watertight bag or box, in case they get into trouble.
For more on enjoying ice fishing—and doing so safely—visit this website.