IT HAPPENS several times each winter. Fishermen seemingly without the sense that God gave a walleye get trapped on shifting ice out on western Lake Erie and have to be rescued. But what took place last Friday off Crane Creek State Park was beyond the pale.
After some 50 local and Coast Guard emergency personnel risked their lives to pull 21 fishermen to safety, several of those same fishermen went right back out amidst the broken ice to retrieve their all-terrain vehicle and other equipment that had been left behind.
Fortunately, no one died. But Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton captured the outrageous behavior of the fishing group perfectly when he said, "That is a slap in the face of everyone who put their life on the line to rescue them."
The incident, fraught as it was with danger to so many people, points up the need to discourage reckless behavior on the part of sportsmen who come to fish but are unprepared to take care of themselves if the ice breaks up, as routinely happens this time of year.
Professional fishing guides know enough to bring a boat along as a safety measure, especially when southwest winds push ice floes offshore. Amateurs often are not as careful, with potentially tragic consequences.
Law enforcement personnel cannot arrest fishermen simply for being on the ice, but they can issue citations for disorderly conduct in an emergency situation to individuals like the ones last week who went back onto the lake after the initial rescue.
Moreover, there ought to be some mechanism for charging for the cost of a rescue that is due to recklessness or negligence on the part of fishermen. Taxpayers should not be stuck with a bill for their stupidity.
In addition to the cost incurred for emergency personnel from Toledo, Oregon, and Jerusalem and Allen townships, a Coast Guard skiff from the Marblehead station participated in the rescue. Three Coast Guard helicopters from Detroit took turns hovering overhead as a precaution against disaster.
According to the Coast Guard, it costs $6,521 an hour to fly the HH-65 Dolphin 'copters that were used. Eight flight hours were involved in last week's rescue, for a total expenditure of $52,168 - for the Coast Guard alone. That's a cost taxpayers should not have to bear for the recklessness of a few.
While the Coast Guard is always ready to swing into action in the case of serious accidents, Lake Erie boaters who find themselves stranded on the water have long known that they must rely on private rescue services when they get into trouble.
Ice fishermen should be treated no differently.