2017-18 has been a crazy winter with snow and fluctuating temperatures. So this seems like a good time to send out this message that could save someone’s life. Ice over lakes, ponds, or rivers will always be a threat to human life. Hunters, anglers, farmers checking on stock, kids playing or anyone can die within minutes of falling through the ice. I know!
I have fallen through the ice twice in my life. The first time was slipping around on a frozen lake during my youth and the second time was rescuing a cow just a few years ago. Both times were frightening and my body went numb. I tried to stand up after reaching the shore, but both times my legs collapsed and I fell. My saving grace was not being alone during these terrifying moments.
The following are how to survive this chilling situation:
BRACE YOURSELF: As soon as you realize you're falling through the ice, hold your breath so that you do not breathe in water if your head goes under for a moment. If you have the presence of mind to lean back a little, this will also help you to avoid submersion of your head.
KEEP A COOL HEAD: The body will react to the plunge by going into "cold shock," a condition characterized by hyperventilation, involuntary gasping, and internal responses including hypertension (high blood pressure) and changes in pulse rate. It's easy to panic under these conditions, but the fact is, you've got time: even in near-freezing water, people in decent physical condition will generally have at least 2-5 minutes and sometimes much longer, before losing the strength or coordination to pull themselves out. Don’t panic!
STAY AFLOAT: Though your head may have gone underwater initially, you want to make sure you keep it out of the water from here on out tread water and lean slightly back to help you float more easily. Don't worry about getting out right away; in the first minute you should just concentrate on keeping afloat and not drowning.
CONTROL BREATHING: The gasping and hyperventilating associated with cold shock begin the second you go into the water and can last up to 4 minutes. You need to normalize your breathing as quickly as possible to ensure that you have enough energy and awareness to get yourself out of the water and minimize the risk of cardiac arrest (cardiac arrest resulting from cold shock is rare in healthy people, but can strike almost instantly in the elderly or people with heart conditions). Concentrate on slowing your breathing, and make an effort to take deep breaths.
POSITION YOURSELF: Position yourself to face the strongest part of the ice. Since you fell through the ice, you know that the ice around the edges of the hole may very likely also be weak. Generally, the strongest ice will be that which you were on just before you fell through. After all, it was holding you only moments before. In some cases, however, the edge from which you came may difficult to reach or may have fragmented.
GET OUT: Get as much of your body as possible out of the water. Grab onto the top of the ice and use your arms and elbows to lift yourself up. It's likely that you won't be able to get all out doing so, but you can get out as far as possible. Water dripping off your clothing will make you weigh less. Swim out by making your body horizontal as possible. Lean forward onto the ice, and kick your feet as you would if you were swimming. As you do so, use your arms and elbows to push and pull yourself out of the hole.
An alternate method is to roll out and away from the hole by floating on your back, hooking your strongest arm over the ice and bring your leg on the same side up over the ice edge; begin rolling up on the ice with a throwing motion with the opposite arm in the direction of the roll while bringing the opposite leg up as the roll commences. Continue to roll until you are on solid ice.
If you are unable to get out of the water after 5 or 10 minutes, you're almost certainly not going to get out. Your body will become weak and uncoordinated, and you will eventually lose consciousness. Don't give up, though. Instead, change your strategy. Many people who have lost consciousness after falling through ice have still been rescued because they managed to keep their heads above water even while they were passed out.
Get as much of your body onto the ice as possible. The body loses heat in water much more quickly than it does in air, so the more of your body is above water the better.
Stretch out your arms flat against the ice, and don't move them unless you start slipping. If you hold your hands and arms in one position against the ice, they may freeze to the ice. This can prevent you from sliding into the water once you pass out, thus giving you more time to be rescued.
If you are certain you cannot escape, stop struggling. Struggling takes away your energy and can lower your body temperature.
ROLL AWAY: Don't stand up right away. The ice around the hole may be weak, so you want to distribute your weight over as much area as possible. Roll away from the hole or crawl on your belly until you are several feet from the hole. After that, you can crawl on your hands and knees until you are certain you are out of danger. Only then stand up and walk out.
Warm up and get help. Severe hypothermia actually takes quite a while to set in, but it's critical to get warm as soon as possible, even if you don't feel particularly cold, you will probably be numb. If you're in the wilderness, start a fire. Otherwise, get indoors or inside a warm car as soon as possible. Get medical attention, even if you don’t feel like you need it.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.