OAK HARBOR, Ohio – A miles-wide ice floe broke away Saturday from Lake Erie’s shoreline, trapping more than 130 fishermen offshore, some for as long as four hours. One man fell into the water and later died of an apparent heart attack.
A Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Petty Officer Robert Lanier, said 134 people had been plucked from the ice by late afternoon. Rescuers in helicopters lowered baskets onto the ice, and people climbed in and were lifted to safety. Others boarded air boats that glided across the ice.
“We were in no danger,” said Norb Pilaczynski, of Swanton, Ohio, who was rescued from the lake along with several of his friends. “We knew there was enough ice out there.”
The day began with fishermen setting down wooden pallets to create a bridge over a crack in the ice so they could roam farther out on the lake. But the planks fell into the water when the ice shifted, stranding the fishermen about 1,000 yards offshore.
“We get people out here who don’t know how to read the ice,” Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said. “What happened here today was just idiotic. I don’t know how else to put it.”
Leslie Love, 65, of New Albany, Ohio, died of an apparent heart attack after his snowmobile broke through the ice while he was searching for a safe place to cross back to shore, according to the Ottawa County sheriff’s office.
Love collapsed after he was helped back onto solid ice, the sheriff’s office said. A relative performed CPR until a helicopter transported Love to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Ice on western sections of Lake Erie was up to 2 feet thick Saturday, National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Randel said. The ice cracked as temperatures rose and winds of up to 35 mph pushed on the ice.
“The crack blew up,” said Chuck Hasty, of Holland, Ohio, who has been out on the ice all week. “It was a matter of a minute or so.”
When fishermen realized late Saturday morning that the ice had broken away, they began to debate the best way off. Some chose to sit and wait for authorities, while others headed east in search of an ice bridge.
“I don’t know how many snowmobiles and four-wheelers took off like a gold rush to the east,” Hasty said.
Fishermen closer to the ice break used their cell phones to warn those farther from shore.
Those rescued had to leave behind most of their equipment, including snowmobiles and ATVs.