How to survive if you fall through thin ice
It has happened almost every year in Alaska for the last 18 years: someone has died after falling through ice on bodies of water.
The state Department of Health and Social Services says that, since 2000, a total of 59 people have died after falling through ice. In the last five years, 11 people lost their lives this way.
Jeremy Lilly, president of the Alaska Dive Search Rescue and Recovery Team, recently demonstrated how to climb out of icy water. He says people first need to be prepared for the shock of the cold water.
"When the water hits your face, it's that gasping reflex we all have. And your muscles, and everything else, your respiratory rate is going to go up. Your pulse rate's going to go up. And you're going to have to get that under control before you try to do much else," said Lilly.
It may take a minute or so to control your breath, Lilly says.
He also says people need to get out of the water in the same direction they fell through the ice.
"If you try to go out on the other side of it, it can be weaker as it gets deeper," said Lilly.
Lilly says when a person is ready to climb out of the water they need to hold onto the solid edges of the ice and plane their legs out in the water like they're swimming.
"Instead of having to go straight up, you're going out at an angle," said Lilly.
Once out of the water, Lilly says a person needs to roll on the ground away from the hole where they broke through. Standing up puts the person’s entire weight on one spot, which can cause the ice to break again.
Ice picks are common tools that can help people get out of the water. The sharp points dig into the ice, allowing people to get a better grip to pull themselves out.
There are some circumstances where people aren't able to get out of the water on their own. In those cases, Lilly advises people to use their arms to push their bodies as high out of the water as possible.
"Get as much of your body out of the water, and then just stay that way," said Lilly.
He adds, "If you try to swim or try to do anything else and you stray away from the edge, your muscles are going to cramp and you're going to sink and you're going to die from drowning versus hypothermia.”
The next step is for the person to start yelling for help or blowing a whistle.
"Whistles can be heard a lot farther than somebody yelling," said Lilly.
For those attempting to rescue someone who’s fallen through the ice, Lilly says there are some do's and don'ts.
A big don’t is to not get too close to the hole where they fell through because you could also break through the ice. Lilly advises finding something on shore to help pull the person to safety, such as a garden hose, a stick or a pole.
People can also buy a throw bag at most sporting goods stores. It is simply a bag with rope inside. The person on shore holds one end of the rope and tosses the bag to the person in the water who then can grab the other end of the rope and pull themselves out.
Lilly cautions people to very careful if they plan to be on the ice because many people don't realize that while the ice may seem strong in one spot, it could be weak just a few feet away due to moving currents or where water comes into a larger body of water from a creek.
Lilly also suggests people wear a flotation or life jacket when they're on the ice, check weather conditions and plan accordingly.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated there have been deaths resulting from falling through ice every year for the past 18 years. There were no fall through ice deaths reported in 2012 or 2017. It also stated there have been 13 deaths in the last five years; there have been 11 fall through ice deaths during that time.
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