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Old 01-03-2005, 08:29 PM
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Netherfield Park
Posts: 3,021
How do you rescue someone who has fallen through pond ice?

I was just watching a Weather Channel feature documenting the plight of three kids who had fallen through the ice in the center of a large pond. A would-be adult rescuer attempting to reach them fell through himself. Fortunately, someone overhead the kids' screams and alerted rescue personnel, who staged a rescue and had a hell of a time reaching the four by way of canoe.

Assuming a large pond and kids fallen through its icy center, how would one even begin to rescue them, without unduly imperiling one's own life? For this discussion, let's assume the rescuer does NOT have a cell phone and there are no neighbors nearby. Let's also imagine that the pond's center is much farther from shore than a tree branch might reach. You have just stopped your vehicle on the side of a remote road and have no rescue conventional devices.

The human impulse to save dying victims is powerful, but lacking proper rescue equipment and factoring in the risks of hypothermia, what realistic options has one?
Old 01-03-2005, 08:39 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Abitibi
Posts: 648
Try distributing your weight over a larger area other than just the soles of your feet, think snow shoes or something similar. You could probably make a pair fairly quickly given enough incentive and enough willow or similar. Or maybe a whole body type deal which you could use to slide across the ice and take extra branches to try reaching further. Good question, it makes me think because I have about a mile of river front and it only fully freezes for a couple of weeks when the temperature really drops.
Old 01-03-2005, 09:07 PM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 11,783
You could make a platform of branches to lie on & try to scoot across the ice on that.

But if you really want to avoid making things worse, you'll probably need something that floats.
Old 01-03-2005, 09:16 PM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Atlanta, GA USA
Posts: 937
Toss a rope or a life preserver, or make a very flat human chain.

Use a ladder or a board or a long pole. Do NOT walk out there (or run out there).

Eagle Scout checking in.
Old 01-03-2005, 10:34 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Again, Titletown
Posts: 21,122
The most important thing to do is not create any more victims. As hard as it is to hear, the worst thing you can possibly do for the kids in the water is get yourself in a situation where you need rescue as well. If you can't go safely, DON'T GO! More victims reduces the likelyhood that any of them will be saved.

Having said that, ladders are also good for spreading your weight over a large area while getting yourself closer to the victims. Throwing or reaching is still the best. A flat bottomed or inflated boat are also good options.
Old 01-03-2005, 10:56 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Abitibi
Posts: 648
Ok, while I'm still on holidays I'll make some thin sheets of ice and try a few types of home made willow snow shoes and sliders and see what is possible, this of course will be over my wifes dead body because there is plenty of other stuff she would like to see done before I go fooling around with "****ing ****" like this.

I'll let you know what I come up with.

Then again if you knew what you'd be likely to come across why would you leave home without one?
Old 01-04-2005, 07:58 AM
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Glenview, IL
Posts: 2,268
I used to do Ice Rescue (Trained & Certified through Dive Rescue International) when I was stationed on the Great Lakes. First and foremost, Telemark has it right. As hard as it will be, you must somehow notify EMS, even if it means leaving the scene. There's no sense in the both of you dying, which is likely in this scenario.

As to the hypothetical "You have to try absent any help" scenario, the only things you can do have already been mentioned, just a few things to add.

First, dress as appropriately as you can. If you have extra clothes to throw on, do so.

Then, distribute your weight over a greater area. Crawling/sliding will do this absent any "sled" or raft device. Take something that floats if you can find it. If you have anything that could be used as line, grab it. Bring a hammer, hook, anything you can find.

Make some type of ice picks for each hand to aid in moving, and most importantly, to aid in getting out of the water should you fall through. Screwdrivers are excellent for this, but pointed sticks will do if that's all you have.

Choose your route carefully. The most direct route may not be the best. If you have any knowledge of ice, think about that before you go. Clear ice is the strongest. Ice with snow on it should never be trusted. IIRC - 2-4 inches of good ice is plenty to support your weight. Take your time, and take no chances.

If you make it to the victim, now comes the hard part. Most likely, you will be laying on your stomach at the waters edge, with the victim submerged up to the chest holding on to the ice edge. Establish comms, and find out how bad they are. Talk positively and all that.

If you were able to bring a hook type of tool (hammer) or a line, try to get the victim to lasso themself or hook themself around the waise area. Try to get them to pull up out of water and assist with the waist area to "roll" them onto the ice. If they have the strength (unlikely) they can use the "ice picks" to try and pull themself out.

Go back slowly the way you came if conditions haven't changed.

All in all, this is a very dangerous scenario to attempt this on your own without help.

One point to remember with cold water victims - they're not dead until they're warm and dead. What that means is this: Even if they drown, all is not lost. Cold water near drowning is a phenomenon that rescuers are well familiar with. When humans drown in cold water, there is a "golden hour" in which it's possible to revive them. Last I heard, this golden hour may even be longer. This is due to the "mammalion dive reflex". I won't go into the specifics, but it works better in children than adults, women than men, drunks than sober, etc. People have been underwater for long periods of time, and revived without any brain damage or other permanent effects. The point being - get help first. Even if they drown, they can still be possibly saved. Don't risk your own life as well.

I apologise for the spelling/typos. I'm at work, on a laptop.
Old 01-04-2005, 08:14 AM
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Sweet Home Chicago
Posts: 33,500
Get a little Macguyver with your brain, too.

Things that I just found in my car that could be used for "rope":
jumper cables
three long winter scarves left there by various children
a teeny air compressor with a long, long cord (I wouldn't trust the connection, but I'd rip it out and use it around a waist or something
uh...rope. I'm a camper.

I have three floormats (what the heck happened to the other?) which could be used as sliding devices, and two ice scrapers to use to claw my way along the ice.

I have a tarp (camping) and a fleece blanket to wrap the victim in. (Should I take off his sodden clothes first? As far as I know, wool is the only fiber that keeps you warm once it's wet.)

Scruloose, the only thing you didn't mention in your excellent post is that the rescuer should be as far back from the hole as possible before pulling or before the victim clambers out. If the ice is thin, it will continue to break against the victim's chest or feet until he reaches a thicker part. If the rescuer is right near the edge, she'll likely be caught by this breaking ice.

I've never rescued a person, but I did rescue a very, very sorry and soggy golden retrevier once.
Old 01-04-2005, 08:36 AM
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Ohio
Posts: 2,916
Let me reinforce that the victim will probably not be able to help. We capsized a canoe in 40o water trying to rescue other canoers and very nearly drowned ourselves.

I ended up holding on to both canoes floating down a creek trying to find a place to get out. I saw my chance with a tree down in the water and decided to swim for it, probably no more than 30 feet. I am a pretty fair swimmer but my body simply would not work like I wanted it to. I went under a couple of times until I finally grabbed a submerged limb and pulled myself up hand over hand. It was the most terrifying situation I've ever been in and I honestly feel I was very close to drowning.

Once I made it near the steep bank, I was too weak to crawl out but luckily I was near a cabin and they had heard all the shouting going on. Thom had came up right by the shore so he wasn't in the water but a few seconds. The threw me a rope and I put it under my arms and was pulled out and up the bank.

All in all I was probably in the water no more than 5-10 minutes and I doubt I could have lasted much longer.
Old 01-04-2005, 09:02 AM
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: temperate forest
Posts: 6,876
Just a very minor addition:
As far as I know, wool is the only fiber that keeps you warm once it's wet
Most artificial fibers (fleece jackets, polypro long underwear) will also insulate when wet, though dry is still better. Cotton and down are the big two that don't do squat for warmth once they get wet.

But depending on the situation, it may make sense to just take all the wet clothes off (if there are plenty of dry clothes available), or leave most of them on (the victim is five minutes from their house via heated car -- no need to embarass them by making them strip).
Old 01-04-2005, 09:19 AM
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Glenview, IL
Posts: 2,268
Excellent points all around WhyNot, especially the "MacGuyver" point. Be creative and think it through. Speed kills in this environment.
Old 01-04-2005, 09:32 AM
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Chicago, IL USA
Posts: 19,803
Former lifeguard here albeit with no special ice training as Scruloose had.

Just to reiterate (because it really can't be said enough) going in after someone is absolutely the LAST choice a would-be rescuer should make. This is even true in a swimming pool and moreso for the hypothetical here. Make every effort to find a way to get the person out without going in after them.

FWIW a person can expect 15-30 minutes of consciousness in water 32.5-40 F and potentially survive 30-90 minutes (
cite ). That is a broad number though and can depend on many things (age, weight, clothing, etc.).

As for the "Golden Hour" certainly there are a variety of cases where people have recovered from being underwater (essentially drowned) and recovering afterwards. However, it is a dicey affair at best and while some have survived death is still the mroe liekly outcome. The whole thing is not understood very well and there are many factors that contribute (i.e. children are more likely to survive via this mechanism than adults). Part of the trick seems to be falling in truly freezing water and not merely very cold water. It's all kind of weird but interesting. If you want more info here is an interesting article:
Old 01-04-2005, 03:14 PM
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Glenview, IL
Posts: 2,268
Whack-a-Mole, were you by chance a Chicago Park lifeguard on Lake Michigan? I had a lot of respect for them guys and gals, watching them row those wooded double-enders, often in some pretty hellacious seas (lakes?). Even though I was a punk-ass teenager getting kicked off of Jarvis Rock by them, I really did respect what they did.

Old 01-04-2005, 03:32 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: Sturgeon Bay, WI USA
Posts: 20,421
Rescue! Rescue? Why, real men (and polar bears) don't fear icy water, they enjoy it!
Old 01-04-2005, 04:13 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Apr 1999
Posts: 23,453
An inflated spare tie will float, even with a steel wheel, and can be used as a life preserver.

I read that in a comic book, so take it for what it's worth.
I'm not just a hack writer -- I'm a hack author
Old 01-05-2005, 09:06 AM
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Chicago, IL USA
Posts: 19,803
Originally Posted by Scruloose
Whack-a-Mole, were you by chance a Chicago Park lifeguard on Lake Michigan? I had a lot of respect for them guys and gals, watching them row those wooded double-enders, often in some pretty hellacious seas (lakes?). Even though I was a punk-ass teenager getting kicked off of Jarvis Rock by them, I really did respect what they did.

Nope. I actually was going to apply then found out they got paid crap wages for a tough job so took a better paying job at a country club watching over a pool. Far easier, paid better and still plenty of attractive women roaming about in swim suits. Hardest rescue I ever had there was dragging a 12 year-old out of the water who belly-flopped and got the wind knocked out of him. To be honest he would have been fine even had I not been there so hardly anything to write home about.

I did do some lifeguard duties at a lake in Wisconsin but the lake was much more tame than Lake Michigan with a smaller, better defined swimming area to watch and fewer people overall. Once again much easier than those on Lake Michigan have it.

I too hold a lot of respect for the job those guys/gals do even though, like you experienced, they occasionally spoiled my fun out there as well.

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