How to

19 December 2016

Man under Ice: Falling into a Frozen Lake

On 14 December, two men were submitted to hospital after one of the men fell through the ice of Dutch Hollow Lake; the other man fell in during a rescue attempt. Friends of the endangered man formed a human chain to secure themselves before saving their friend the icy depths.

The incident took place in Sauk County, Wisconsin. According to Sauk County Sheriff’s Office, a report was received at 10:36 a.m. concerning a man falling through the ice in the town of Woodland. The caller informed authorities of the human chain rescue attempt.

Apparently, five people went to Dutch Hollow Lake to ice fish. About 150 yards from the Woodland boat landing, Lucas J. Tourdot of Reedsburg, 28, fell through the ice. Friend Krue B. Meisel also of Reedsburg, 20, partially fell through the ice during the rescue attempt. Other friends in tow Cole K. Yerkes of LaValle, 24, Joanne J. Leader of Reedsburg, 25, and Jacob W. Meyer of Reedsburg, 20, formed a human chain, successfully removing Tourdot from the icy grasp of the lake. Rescue crews arrived to the site shortly after Tourdot and Meisel were pulled out.

Wonewoc Ambulance was responsible for transporting Tourdot and Meisel to Gunderson St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hillsboro. The remaining friends were not injured.

The incident is not unique; in fact, in the last decade over 20 people have drowned after falling through ice into water according to Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA).

Surviving the Ice

If you ever do find yourself on the wrong side of the ice, the first thing to do is brace yourself. The shock of being submerged in freezing water will cause you to gasp for air, a hazard if your head is underwater. After your body has acclimated to the cold, the next thing to worry about is hypothermia which can set in from as little as a 4° drop in body temperature. Hypothermia takes something like 30 minutes to develop depending on body weight, clothing, and environmental factors, so focus on keeping your head above water and staying calm. Once your mind and body are stabilised, try to get out of the water through the hole through which you fell in. Staying in the water is extremely dangerous as neuromuscular cooling or “swim failure” will render muscles useless and dramatically affect coordination, making a simple swim quite difficult to manage. It may be difficult to find the hole, so look for contrasting colours indicating a break in the ice. 

When your head breaks the surface, attract attention to yourself in any way possible. Hopefully, someone is around to call for official help. Try to orient yourself on the edge of the broken ice with your upper body mostly out of the water. Before attempting to exit, allow the excess water to drain from your clothing. Holding fast to anything within reach, kick your legs to propel yourself out of the water. If you aren’t able to get yourself out, don’t panic; conserve energy by moving very little, crossing your legs to conserve heat and keeping as much of your body out of the water as possible. Keep trying to get out of the water. When you are able to propel yourself out of the watery depths, resist the urge to stand. Rather, roll across the ice to sturdy ground. This is a far safer option than standing because it evenly distributes your weight across a larger area.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out the Art of Manliness guide on the subject.

Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).