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Published: Saturday, 2/26/2005

Rescuers irked by evacuees' actions

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rescuers from several agencies spent about two hours bringing 15 fishermen to shore. Rescuers from several agencies spent about two hours bringing 15 fishermen to shore.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

Kevin Chapman said he was upset, but powerless to stop the ice fishermen who turned around to retrieve personal equipment from the same floe from which they were just rescued yesterday afternoon.

"We can't stop those guys from going out there," said the assistant chief for the Jerusalem Township Fire Department.

About 30 people were out on the ice in Lake Erie off Crane Creek State Park about 11 a.m. yesterday when a southwesterly wind caused it to begin to break apart and drift from the shoreline.

"It happened real quick," said John Stevens, 26, of Fond du Lac, Wis., who said he goes ice fishing often, but has never had to be rescued.

About 15 people were able to get across the ice safely by heading east toward the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station on four-wheelers and snowmobiles before the ice separated completely from the shoreline.

But that left Mr. Stevens and 14 others stranded on the floe that was a mile from shore when 50 rescuers arrived from the Jerusalem Township department, Allen Township, the Oregon Fire Department, and the U.S. Coast Guard's station at Marblehead, Ohio, to begin rescue efforts, Mr. Chapman said.

As Toledo Fire Department divers stood by and the Coast Guard helicopter from Detroit flew overhead as precautions, four boats went back and forth from the shore to the floe, bringing several fishermen with them each time.

Two hours later, the last fisherman was rescued from the floe that by then had drifted five miles offshore.

But rescuers were only worried about saving fishermen - not equipment - leading several people to hop in a boat to retrieve the gear that was left behind when they were rescued.

Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said that kind of behavior was unacceptable.

"That is a slap in the face for everyone who put their life on the line to rescue them," he said. "These people have the audacity to go back out there? That is such an insult. I don't care what the value of their equipment is. It can go underwater. At least they are alive."

Because he sees similar rescues every year, Sheriff Bratton said he thinks people should be held accountable for at least the rescue efforts - possibly in civil court - because other law enforcement officers and firefighters have to cover for those who are involved in the rescue efforts.

"I see it as a continuing nuisance every time at this time of year. At no time is it really safe out there," he said.

He added that the individuals who went back to the floe could have been arrested for several reasons, including disorderly conduct in an emergency situation.

Jerry Abele, 56, of Lakeside, Ohio, a fishing guide who was not involved with the fishermen, said the rescue would not have been necessary if the fishermen had been better prepared.

"Under uncertain conditions, you should have a backup plan and have a boat standing by," he said, adding that a 12-foot aluminum or inflatable boat would have been sufficient.

"With the right kind of equipment, I wouldn't have any problems at all."

Contact Erika Ray at:

eray@theblade.com

or 419-724-6088.



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