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New details, photos of Door County ice rescue from U.S. Coast Guard

Authorities are urging people to check their local weather before heading to the ice
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 11:13 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 5, 2021 at 5:45 PM CST
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DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Despite the frigid cold in the forecast, authorities are again asking people to avoid the ice a day after more than 60 ice fishermen were rescued from wayward ice floes on Sturgeon Bay.

The U.S. Coast Guard worked with local and state agencies to rescue 66 people stranded on three separate ice floes that became detached from shore in Door County.

Those on the ice noticed a break at around 9 A.M. Thursday, but by then it was too late. The ice broke off and traveled more than 1,000 feet from ice attached to shore, trapping the fishermen.

Time was of the essence. “I would say we were all pretty concerned about the weather that was coming in,” Coast Guard Lt. Erin Nolan said, “and knew if we didn’t get to them in a relatively quick manner that there was snow coming in.”

The Coast Guard responded with ice rescue teams from Station Sturgeon Bay and Cutter Mobile Bay. Two helicopters from Air Station Traverse City responded to the mouth of Sturgeon Bay.

Earlier today Air Station Traverse City launched two helicopters to respond to reports of over 60 ice fishermen stranded...

Posted by U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City on Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Door County Sheriff’s Office said there was a large separation of ice extending from Little Harbor and southwest to Snake Island.

“Multiple agencies are currently involved in removing several parties due to the gap in the ice,” said the Sheriff’s Office.

“With the exceptionally large piece of ice that broke off and started drifting away, 60-plus people, 100-plus shanties, that’s a lot of people to kind of coordinate,” Lt. Nolan said.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources used its air boats, which it normally brings on ice rescues, but the wind made that a challenge.

“You try to make a turn to the right or to the left and it’s the wind is blowing you, so you have to either put more throttle or more change of direction into the rudder,” DNR Conservation Warden Jeff Lautenslager described.

It took three agencies four hours to rescue the 66 anglers with no injuries being reported.

“This could have turned tragic in a hurry had the conditions not been as good as what they were,” Door County Chief Deputy Patrick McCarty said.

“Today’s success is a direct result of effective training and the long standing and close relationships with our agency partners in the greater Sturgeon Bay Area,” Cmdr. Bryan Swintek, search and rescue coordinator for Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan, said.

Our mild winter played a big part in this. A first responder told reporter Joshua Peguero that the ice is cracking at an alarming rate.

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Large separation of ice extending generally from Little Harbor and Southwest to the Snake Island area. Exercise extreme...

Posted by Door County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, February 4, 2021

It takes more than a week’s worth of cold to create solid ice and there’s concern another piece could easily break off. Just because we’re getting extreme cold this weekend doesn’t mean the water will freeze enough to make it safe.

“The ice that is out there isn’t very safe. It’s not extremely thick, especially for this time of the year,” Lautenslager noted.

The Door County Sheriff’s Office is urging people to avoid the ice, at least for this weekend.

One man assisting the rescue effort said in his 30-plus years fishing on Sturgeon Bay, he’s never seen such an incident.

“In my years of being on this ice, I’ve seen it open north, south, but I’ve not seen it where you got a split going to the west in that north-south region. And there must be a super strong current today. I’ve never seen that,” Dale Stroschein said.

The Sheriff’s Office urges everyone to use caution on the ice as weather conditions will change with the snow and wind.

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The Ephraim Firefighters Association Chief Justin MacDonald had strong words for people out on the ice today. “No fish is worth getting injured, you also are placing every emergency responder in danger for your actions,” MacDonald wrote on Facebook.

FIRST ALERT FORECAST: https://www.wbay.com/weather/

Door County is under a Winter Storm Warning through Friday. MORE INFO: https://www.wbay.com/weather/alerts/

A photo shows the dangerous ice conditions on Sturgeon Bay. Feb. 4, 2021
A photo shows the dangerous ice conditions on Sturgeon Bay. Feb. 4, 2021(WBAY)

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