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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2009

Coast Guard says its vessel didn't crack ice

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Coast Guard said Monday that its largest icebreaker on the Great Lakes, a second-generation vessel known as the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, is not to blame for the floe that broke loose in western Lake Erie and caused 134 ice fishermen to be temporarily stranded Saturday near Oak Harbor, Ohio.

"The Coast Guard has reviewed its icebreaker movements and determined that Coast Guard vessel movements were not a factor in the case," according to an agency statement.

The newest Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, which has its home port in Cheboygan, Mich., left Cleveland Harbor at 9 a.m. Saturday on a scheduled trip up through the Detroit River via Pelee Pass north of Pelee Island.

That's more than 26 nautical miles from Saturday's incident.

The Coast Guard said its Detroit station diverted the Mackinaw at 11:28 a.m. to assist in rescue efforts off Locust Point but it did not enter the ice field. The closest it got was north of Kelleys Island, 18 miles from Locust Point, about 12:45 p.m. It was sent back less than an hour later.

Lt. Dave French, a Coast Guard spokesman, said all available units were called because of the large number of people needing help. "That call included one of our icebreakers, whose services may have been necessary to help rescuers access the scene. However, on-scene rescuers were able to pull the 134 ice fisherman to safety before the icebreaker arrived," he said.

The Coast Guard also said it has not broken ice in the western Lake Erie basin since Jan. 24, when the Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay escorted a commercial vessel from the Maumee River north toward the Detroit River.

The latest Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, built in Wisconsin, succeeded the original, built in Toledo in the early 1940s. The latter was retired in 2006 after more than 61 years of service.

Authorities have said the floe measured eight square miles. Although it was believed to be 16 inches thick, it started to float away Saturday because of relatively high temperatures accompanied by strong southerly winds.

Fishermen who had gained access to the area earlier in the day by using a wooden plank to cross a crack in the ice were stranded when the crack widened.

Twenty other agencies assisted the Coast Guard with the massive rescue.

The one reported death was that of Leslie Love, 65, of New Albany, Ohio, a fisherman who died of natural causes related to a heart condition.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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