Posted: 28 March 2012
By: CBC News
Thirteen American ice fishermen who were stranded for seven hours on an ice floe on Lake of the Woods admit that they should not have gone out onto the ice, but they say they weren’t worried during their ordeal.
Search and rescue crews used an air boat to rescue the 13 men, who became stranded on Tuesday while ice-fishing at Buffalo Bay, in the Manitoba portion of Lake of the Woods. No one was injured.
The group of fishermen from Wisconsin has made the annual trek north for the past 10 years.
But unseasonably warm temperatures this year caused the lake ice to deteriorate earlier than usual, said Leonard Friesen, owner of the Silver Birch Resort, where the men are staying.
One of the men, Tracy Sobush, told CBC News he and his friends had been warned on Tuesday not to go onto the ice, but they believed it would be safe.
“Let’s take a chance and go. Yeah, Leonard told us, ‘You’re out there on your own risk, boys.’ And we know that,” Sobush told CBC News on Wednesday.
“We know the risks. But … to catch Manitoba pike, it’s well worth it.”
The men took their all-terrain vehicles and fishing gear onto the uncertain ice. They ended up stranded on an ice floe for about seven hours, until the last of them were taken off just before 3 a.m. CT Wednesday.
Friesen said the fishermen, who range in age from the mid-20s to mid-40s, had spent Tuesday fishing for northern pike spawning in the Reed River. He received a phone call from the group at around 7:30 p.m.
“They said they had an issue,” Friesen said.
The wind had come up and suddenly the ice where their fishing huts were stationed was surrounded by open water. Cracks and fissures in the ice made it impossible for them to return to shore.
“They couldn’t get off the ice because the crack was about 100 feet wide and by time they got rescued the crack was probably 300 [to] 400 feet wide,” Friesen said.
But Sobush said he and his friends were not worried as the ice pulled away from the shore.
“I’m an ice fisherman. That’s what ice fishermen do,” he said.
“There is no such thing as safe ice. I mean, it could be four feet thick and it’s still dangerous.”
An airboat was dispatched from Kenora, Ont., and the men were ferried to shore. It took several hours for search and rescue crews to complete the task.
RCMP search and rescue, the Manitoba fire commissioner’s office, Lake of the Woods search and rescue and local fire departments took part in the rescue.
Friesen said the ice was about 45 centimetres inches thick and the men were reasonably comfortable while awaiting help.
“They were sitting out, it was hard ice and they had their ice shacks, so they’re all dressed warm,” he said. “They had their ice shacks set up with the heaters in it. They were doing just fine.”
Sobush said he and his buddies passed the time by “cracking jokes and ripping on each other, because that’s what guys from Wisconsin do — we just give each other a hard time.
“We know it’s serious,” he added. “You know, we’re in a pickle and we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to get out of it.”
Live and learn
The group spent almost $4,000 to hire a helicopter to lift out 10 all-terrain vehicles and several fishing shacks.
Sobush said in hindsight, his group should have checked weather patterns in the area before heading out onto the ice.
Friesen said it was a case of live and learn.
“They all knew what could happen, there was no doubt about it,” he said.
“But when the fishing is really good and you get caught up in the fishing and not looking at the weather and the wind conditions, things can happen.”
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