Emergency shows how unsafe ice is

It bears repeating: Be wary of unsafe ice. The Alger County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call Saturday of four snowmobilers who had broken through Lake Superior ice near the east channel of Grand Island.

Fortunately, the subjects pulled themselves from the water and made it safely to Grand Island, and were treated by Alger EMS and released without injuries.

It could have been a lot worse.

Grand Island previously made the news after a pressure crack in the ice of West Munising Bay was discovered Jan. 21. A crack extended from Powell’s Point on the mainland in Grand Island Township to Grand Island.

It’s not just this area that can be unsafe. Where there’s ice there can be danger, from Detroit to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

That’s the main reason behind ice rescue simulations.

The United States Coast Guard’s Station Belle Isle on Saturday held such an event as part of the Shiver on the River festival at Belle Isle.

Petty Officer Charles Schumacher, who led visitors through the ice rescue demonstration, said the probability of living goes “way up” if an individual believes they’re going to make it through the incident.

He also mentioned the 1-10-1 rule in which people have one minute to calm their breathing and realize the severity of the situation, 10 minutes of “meaningful movement” such as getting out of the water and onto the ice, and an hour to survive in the water without moving.

A past entry in the Coast Guard Compass, the official blog of the USCG, lists tips for boaters getting through the icy winter season safely. Filing a float plan with someone on shore can help rescuers narrow down where to look if a person doesn’t return when scheduled.

As is the case with warm water, wearing a lifejacket is recommended.

Proper equipment for people to have when they’re near ice, according to the Coast Guard, includes an ice pick, flares and a VHF radio for calling in emergencies because phone batteries die faster in cold weather.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources also has tips for ice safety. What makes ice tricky, it noted, is that its strength can’t always be determined simply by its look, thickness, temperature or presence of snow. Clear ice with a bluish tint is the strongest, and people should always consider ice covered by insulating snow to be unsafe.

It’s also a good idea to avoid large cracks or depressions in the ice, and to test ice thickness with an ice spud before settling on a spot to drop a fishing line.

When venturing out on ice, think if you really need to be out on it. If you still want to head out, remember that ice conditions vary from lake to lake, and it pays to find a good local source, like a bait shop, to learn about current ice conditions.

Your life is worth more than a stringer of fish.

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