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Published: Tuesday, 3/1/2005

Risky ice rescues pricey, recurrent for area agencies

Fishermen rescued Friday from a floe that broke and floated away gather on the shore. Three helicopters assisted the rescue. Fishermen rescued Friday from a floe that broke and floated away gather on the shore. Three helicopters assisted the rescue.

Every winter, emergency rescue crews say it's the same story on Lake Erie.

A dangerous floe strands a number of fishermen on the ice, forcing a risky rescue operation that costs taxpayers thousands.

It happened again Friday, and officials estimate the rescue of about 30 people on the ice off Crane Creek State Park could cost more than $35,000.

"People are going to do what they are going to," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Timothy Robertson.

A southwesterly wind caused the ice to break apart and drift from the shore. Fifteen people were able to get across the ice safely on four-wheelers and snowmobiles.

But 15 others, who were stranded a mile from shore, had to be ferried back by more than 50 rescuers from several different agencies.

The Coast Guard dispatched three helicopters to fly overhead as a precaution.

It costs $5,000 per hour to keep a helicopter in the air, Mr. Robertson said.

The first helicopter was flown four hours, the second spent two hours in air, and the third was up for an hour.

In addition to the Coast Guard, emergency crews from Toledo, Jerusalem Township, Allen Township, Oregon, and Ottawa County were part of the rescue operation.

Oregon fire Chief Ray Walendzak said any additional cost to his department would probably be minimal.

"If we had done nothing, eventually they would have been at the bottom [of Lake Erie]," Chief Walendzak said.

Jerusalem Township fire Chief Richard Nissen said the rescue would only cost the township about $200, but he noted that such rescues can be dangerous for emergency personnel.

Although many of the rescuers were volunteers, fire departments generally pay a fee to those who respond.

The Toledo Fire Department had divers standing by, but the city did not incur any additional cost such as overtime.

At the scene, several first responders said they were irritated that several of the men they had just rescued from the ice, got in a boat, and headed back out to salvage their fishing gear and equipment.

Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said such behavior was a "slap in the face."

But officials softened their opinions somewhat yesterday.

Mr. Robertson said the fisherman were much safer being in a boat than walking back out onto the ice.

Even with the highly publicized rescue on Friday, six fishermen with two dogs went out on the ice near Catawba Island on Sunday and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard and the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department.

Chief Walendzak said he wasn't surprised those fishermen chose to go out Sunday morning.

"Catawba is in a cove, and I'm sure those guys never figure it would break free like that," he said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com or


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