Austin Balem of Duluth, Minnesota, was out fishing on six inches of ice on Lake Superior on Tuesday when he beheld a terrifying sight.
“We looked out, and everybody was running,” he told MPR News. “And then we started running towards shore and looked, and it was probably 100 yards out of open water.”
“We were out there, having a good time, catching fish, and it just switched up that quick. You could definitely feel the wind switch on us really fast.”
Balem had been out earlier in the week when the ice had only been three inches thick and had had no problems. But then Tuesday morning, he and 25 other fishermen were stranded on a chunk of ice with no way to shore.
Help arrived quickly, and the Duluth Fire Department, the Duluth Police Department, St. Louis County Sheriff Office and Mayo Ambulance arrived to oversee the rescue.
Some first responders were on the scene within a minute of receiving the call.
The fishermen were ferried back to shore in small groups, a few at a time, leaving all their gear behind them.
“Yesterday at a little after 11:00a.m., the Duluth Fire Department responded to a water emergency call in Lake Superior,” the Duluth Fire Department posted on their Facebook page late Tuesday night.
“A large group of fishermen had been fishing in individual fish houses when the ice that they had been on separated from shore. The anglers were located off of the Beacon Pointe housing development at 2100 East Water Street.
“Four Quint was the first to arrive a minute after the call came in and found a large group of fishermen who had collapsed their fish houses standing on a large ice flow. Crews were able to make immediate contact with anglers and brought three to shore.”
The fire department shared photos of the rescue as well, showing the line of men waiting for help and then the rescue teams setting out with an inflatable raft to pick the fishermen up and bring them to safety.
The wind caused some issues for the rescue team, and while they used a motorless rapid deployment craft at first, a motorized inflatable boat soon arrived and they were able to remove the remaining people from the ice floe.
“Within an hour of the original call, the Duluth Fire Department had rescued 26 anglers from the ice,” the post continued.
“Crews from Headquarters, UMD, Woodland, and Lakeside responded to the call.”
According to ABC News, there were no injuries, probably thanks to the quick response time of the rescue teams.
“The problem with ice fishing anywhere is it’s only as safe as it is at a given moment in time,” the Duluth Fire Department chief Shawn Krizaj said.
Many of the fishermen were anxious about their gear, which was steadily floating away from them, and there’s no official word on whether the hundreds of dollars worth of supplies were able to be rescued as well — but Balem’s looking on the bright side, according to MPR.
“I’d rather have my life than my gear, though,” he said.
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