One person dead, hundreds rescued from ice drift in Lake Erie in US

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Satellite image of Lake Erie taken on February 7 at 18:20 (GMT).
Image: NOAA, NASA.

At least one fisherman has died and 134 others were rescued on Lake Erie off the shores of Ohio after an eight mile wide piece of ice broke off the frozen lake's ice shelf and began to drift. The United States Coast Guard says the unidentified man who died fell into the water while trying to find a way off the ice. Rescuers were able to get him out of the water, but he died while being flown to a nearby hospital for treatment.

The Coast Guard also said that the fishermen were warned that the ice could break, but many didn't believe there was any danger.

"We were in no danger. We knew there was enough ice out there," said Swanton, Ohio resident Norb Pilaczynski, one of those rescued from the ice. Before heading onto the already broken ice, they made a makeshift bridge from wooden pallets to get to and from the shore, but the ice shifted and the bridge was destroyed. It left all 135 people stranded more than 1,000 yards from the shoreline.

The ice in most parts of the lake can be up to two feet thick, but on Saturday temperatures rose above freezing, with winds of over 35 miles per hour. The combination of both high winds and temperatures, broke the thick ice into dozens of large pieces.

Ottawa County sheriff Bob Bratton called those who avoided the warnings "idiotic".

"What happened here today was just idiotic. I don't know how else to put it," stated Bratton. The rescue operation took nearly five hours to complete. Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake of the five Great Lakes in the U.S., but the smallest by volume, and the tenth largest fresh water lake in the world.

Several helicopters were called in from Detroit, Michigan and Traverse City. A C-130 was also used to survey the lake which was flown in from Elizabeth City, North Carolina.


  Learn more about Lake Erie on Wikipedia.