People urged to stay off the ice after vehicles break through on Lake Winnipeg
WINNIPEG -- The Rural Municipality of St. Clements is urging people to keep their vehicles off the ice after five vehicles, including a truck and camper trailer, broke through the ice on Lake Winnipeg Sunday near Balsam Bay.
No injuries have been reported but a water and ice safety expert is warning people to stay off the ice for now, because of unpredictable water and ice levels.
A half-submerged pickup truck and a camper trailer remained frozen into the eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg Monday. A scene not surprising to people living in the area who said vehicles go through the ice in the area every year. Still, it's a sight that left some ice fishers -- who chose to walk not drive on the lake -- baffled.
"I thought the guy's pretty silly,” said Clay Walby.
Sentiments that were echoed by ice fisher Jose Cabral.
"I didn't want to take my truck out there -- that's for sure. Once I saw that,” said Cabral. “I wouldn’t want to take that chance.”
The remaining trailer and pickup truck were just two of the five vehicles that prompted R.M. of St. Clements officials to issue an urgent warning: keep your vehicles off the ice.
“I’m horrified that we even have to do it (issue the warning),” said R.M. of St. Clements acting chief administrative officer Colleen Sailor. “What people forget is that they’re going out there for fun. They’re risking other people’s lives who may have to rescue them.”
Sailor said expressed concern that even if your vehicle doesn’t fall through it may make others think the ice is safe.
The Lifesaving Society of Manitoba said the ice in southern Manitoba is not safe this year. It’s calling on people to go one step further and stay off completely, at least for now.
"This year it would be prudent, we would say to people, to be staying off the ice for a while longer because we have such unpredictable water and ice levels this year due to that unprecedented high water that we were seeing throughout September and October,” said Water Smart coordinator Christopher Love.
Love said those high levels mean the water may be flowing faster in some areas, eroding ice underneath the surface that otherwise may look safe.
He also said as levels drop, the ice becomes more dangerous.
"You basically end up with an air pocket right below the ice and that means the ice can't support as much weight as you would otherwise expect because, normally, ice floats, or sits on top of the water levels,” said Love.
A CTV camera was at Balsam Bay when the a man and a woman, who identified themselves as the owner of the trailer that went through the ice, returned Monday to retrieve some belongings from the partially sunken camper. They declined to do an on-camera interview and a woman request they not be recorded.
A friend of theirs who spoke to CTV News said the couple saw other vehicles going on the ice Sunday and thought it was safe to take their trailer on the lake to go ice fishing.
MPI TO COVER VEHICLES THAT GO THROUGH ICE
The woman who requested not to be identified said the truck they used to tow the trailer was pulled off the ice Sunday. The woman said they have an appointment to get the trailer pulled out on Thursday -- a recovery operation Manitoba Public Insurance said will be covered by insurance as long as the owner has a valid Autopac policy, active driver's licence and pays a deductible.
MPI also said vehicles including trailers, that go through the ice are automatically written off.
That news doesn’t sit well with Walby.
“If my insurance rates are paying for that…it’s kind of silly,” said Walby. “Use your head, kind of thing."
"You don't want to hear anyone drowning or dying or anything like that, but just use safety measures – don’t drive out if it’s thin.”
MPI said on average it opens two dozen claims like this each year, usually in late fall or early spring when fishers are setting up or removing their ice shacks.
A SAFE ICE THICKNESS
The Lifesaving Society said the ice should be eight to 12 inches thick before going on it with a car or small vehicle and between 12 and 15 inches for a pickup truck.
For people walking or cross-country skiing on the ice, it should be at least four inches thick and five inches for a snowmobile or ATV.
Those are just guidelines. Love stressed you should measure the thickness of the ice in several places before you go on it. If no water comes out of hole, Love said that’s a sign there may be an air pocket underneath and it may not be safe. If water does come out, he said that means the water is supporting the ice.
Even if you do measure the ice, the Lifesaving Society said no ice is without some risk.
“If you’re going out on the ice at all this season, you need to be prepared to go through and into cold water,” said Love. “Have safety equipment with you. If you’re going out, go out on foot first with appropriate backup. So if I’m going out on the ice, you’re my buddy that’s with me. We’re both carrying safety gear so that if one of goes through the other can help out: toss a rope, help pull us out of the ice-cold water without getting close to the edge of the hole.”
ICE SAFETY TIPS:
- Have trained people test ice thickness
- Avoid vehicle travel on ice whenever possible
- Keep away from unfamiliar paths or unknown ice
- Bring a buddy; never go alone
- Wear a buoyant suit
- Wear a lifejacket over your parka
- Carry ice picks, ice poles and rope
- Avoid going on ice at night (Source: Lifesaving Society of Manitoba)