On Feb. 1, 2013, two men ice fishing for crappie and white bass in the Boller Point area on Glen Elder Reservoir found themselves in a dangerous situation when the piece of ice they were fishing on broke away from shore and headed toward the main lake. Frigid temperatures, high winds, and a lack of personal flotation devices (PFDs) put both men at risk of hypothermia and drowning. At 12:56 p.m., local goose hunter Charlie Stevens stumbled upon the two men and quickly phoned Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) game warden Landen Cleveland for assistance.
Stevens assured Cleveland that he could launch a boat from shore, but it was going to be difficult; the only part of the lake not completely covered in ice was just northeast of the Boller Point boat ramp. Upon arrival, Cleveland was joined by Mitchell County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Martin. Cleveland quickly provided Martin with a PFD, as well as directions on how to use rescue ropes.
“We could see these guys were in bad shape,” said Cleveland. “It’s not uncommon for us to rescue people off water, but strong winds and near-freezing temperatures made this cold-water rescue dangerous for everyone involved.”
Driving the boat upwind of where the men were stranded, Cleveland positioned the boat on top of the ice the men were on, leaving the motor in the water. Finding both men had already tied themselves together, Cleveland then threw the closest man an orange rescue disc and advised him to tie it to the rope already wrapped around his waste. As Cleveland attempted to throw the same man a PFD, the man then slipped and fell on to the ice. After several seconds of lying still, the man, seemingly uninjured, stood back up and grabbed the PFD. Cleveland then provided the second man with a PFD.
With Martin at the edge of the boat, Cleveland advised the men to walk toward the boat, staying in unison and maintaining as much distance as possible between each other for better weight distribution on the ice slab. As the first man approached the boat, Martin quickly grabbed him and pulled him aboard. The second man followed, and was also assisted on to the boat by Martin.
“I don’t think they realized the situation they were in until they were on shore,” said Cleveland. “When they looked back and saw that the piece of ice they were just on was now gone, it finally hit them that they could have died.”
Cleveland explained that wind will often send drift ice to shore. When it’s cold enough, the drift ice will refreeze, attaching itself to land. In this instance, a rise in temperature and strong winds caused waves that eventually broke the ice loose at a weak point, detaching it from shore again. Cleveland added that the men didn’t realize they were on drift ice.
Upon their arrival to shore, the two men were checked out and later discharged by Mitchell County medical personnel.
“Once the men were safely on the boat, they calmed down and realized they could breath easy,” said Cleveland. He added that one of the men even joked about not having to get wet amid the whole ordeal.
“I’m glad we got there when we did, but people can really learn a lesson from this,” said Cleveland. “It’s important that people educate themselves on their surroundings and always be cautious of the circumstances because in a split second, it can be a life or death situation.”
Image courtesy Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism