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By Phil Helsel
The Coast Guard and other agencies on Saturday rescued 46 ice fishermen who were on an ice floe that broke off near Catawba Island on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie, the coast guard said.
There were more people on the ice floe, but around 100 were able to “self-rescue” by swimming or walking across ice bridges that had been connected to the floe, according to the maritime law enforcement and rescue agency.
The Coast Guard was notified about the situation at around 8 on Saturday morning, and everyone was rescued by about 11 a.m., the Coast Guard said. “We’re happy to report everyone is safe,” the Coast Guard’s Marblehead station said in a statement.
“It happened really fast,” Tony Adkins, 42, of Akron, told the Toledo Blade newspaper. He was on the ice for around 20 minutes before the cracks in the ice appeared. “We didn’t know there was open water beyond us,” he said.
“Thank God the Coast Guard was here for us,” Adkins told the newspaper. “You live and you learn, I guess.”
The Coast Guard said that boats and helicopters were dispatched for what it termed a mass rescue. Amid rising temperatures, “the ice broke into multiple separate ice floes” and helicopter and airboat crews were able to rescue the fishermen. Local fire and EMS and other agencies and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources also assisted.
In 2009, there was another mass rescue of ice fishermen who were stranded on a large ice floe in Lake Erie, the Associated Press reported at the time.
In that case 134 fishermen were stranded, and the fishermen had ignored cracks in the ice and high-wind warnings, and some even built a makeshift bridge across the cracking ice to reach a favorite fishing spot, the AP reported. One person died that day after his snowmobile broke through the ice about 200 yards from shore.
The Coast Guard said Saturday that as temperatures begin to rise, it “strongly urges people not to go out onto ice.”
“Ice may look safe but it is difficult to determine the thickness visually and the increase in warm weather will continue to melt and weaken the ice,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
Catawba Island is located north of Sandusky.