Warm Winter Can Be Deadly For Snowmobilers And Ice Fishermen

Mar 9, 2017
Originally published on March 9, 2017 8:16 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This winter has been unusually warm in many parts of the United States. In the Northeast and Great Lakes, ice has actually been unstable. And that has made some winter sports very dangerous. People have died after falling into frigid waters. Veronica Volk with Great Lakes Today reports.

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VERONICA VOLK: In a video on his Facebook, Chris Copeland is teaching his daughter Ariana (ph) how to ride a tiny four-wheeler.

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ARIANA: Whoa.

CHRIS COPELAND: You're running me over.

VOLK: This was taken in the winter of 2014. In it, Conesus Lake, one of New York's Finger Lakes, is completely frozen over and covered with snow. That wasn't the case on February 11 of this year. Chris Copeland and his friend Jason Fluet were out drinking at a local bar.

They got a ride to Copeland's home on the shore of Conesus lake. There was a light snow falling. And a neighbor would later say he heard a snowmobile engine start up around 3 a.m., take off and never come back. Livingston County Sheriff Tom Dougherty says their drone picked up tracks going out onto the lake.

TOM DOUGHERTY: We figured that their plan was to just go out do a quick loop and come right back. But they got off course and went too far south and went out into the mushed ice, which then turned into open water.

VOLK: Chris Copeland and Jason Fluet were the ninth and 10th men to die from falling through thin ice on a snowmobile this winter. And that's just in New York. Thin ice has claimed the lives of snowmobilers from Maine to Wisconsin to Ontario, Canada. On Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, three snowmobilers broke through and died in a single weekend.

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VOLK: Mark Tremblay has been with the Brookline IceBreakers Snowmobile Club in New Hampshire for 14 years. He says even though February is supposed to be a safe month for ice, you just can't assume.

MARK TREMBLAY: If you're near any kind of questionable ice or you haven't talked to an ice fisherman to find out if the ice is more than six inches thick, you don't go. Just don't go.

VOLK: Even ice fishermen are not completely immune from these tragedies. At least 12 men have died falling through ice while fishing in the Northeast and Great Lakes region since December.

During warm spells, state and local agencies issue advisories to raise awareness about the danger of thin ice. But every body of water is different.

As the winters grow warmer and the ice less predictable, sportsmen are encouraged to be especially cautious. And when in doubt stay on land. For NPR News, I'm Veronica Volk in upstate New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAVEL DOVGAL'S "NIBIRU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.