Ice fishermen stranded in storm for 26 hours on Lake Winnipeg

A Selkirk ice fisherman wishes he had checked the weather forecast before heading to Lake Winnipeg on Sunday and getting stuck in blinding snow for 26 hours.

Trapped by blowing snow, pair spend a frightening night before morning rescue

A Selkirk ice fisherman wishes he had checked the weather forecast before heading to Lake Winnipeg on Sunday and getting stuck in blinding snow for 26 hours. 1:57

A Selkirk, Man., ice fisherman wishes he had checked the weather forecast before heading to Lake Winnipeg on Sunday and getting stuck in blinding snow for 26 hours.

Joey Halldorsson and his brother-in-law Ron Berens arrived on the lake in clear weather around 7:30 a.m. Sunday. 

Joey Halldorsson fishes on the Red River in summer. (Joey Halldorsson)
"Normally we check the weather and do it right. If it's going to blow on that lake, you stay off of it, but we just for some reason didn't check. We just went," said Halldorsson. "If I had known there was a blowing snow warning like that coming through, I wouldn't have even went."

He and Berens went seven kilometres offshore near Chalet Beach south of Matlock, Man.

Less than two hours later the weather changed, Halldorsson said.

"We looked outside and you couldn't see 10, 15 feet in front of you," he said. 
Joey Halldorsson and Ron Berens created a makeshift stove and cooked fish they'd caught to eat while stranded on Lake Winnipeg for 26 hours. (Joey Halldorsson)
They thought they could wait the storm out. 
Ron Berens fishes on the Red River in summer. (Joey Halldorsson)

"It just never let up," Halldorsson said. 

The storm eased around 5 p.m., so they packed up and tried to drive through 1½-metre snowdrifts. 

"We got about 50 feet away and got stuck. Then we dug it out. We got another 10 feet and got stuck. We fought our way back to the shack, got back in the shack," he said.

They fried fish they had caught with a makeshift stove they built from a pan, their propane heater and a bucket. They greased the pan using a leftover sausage from a breakfast sandwich and drank melted snow.

"It was survival mode 101," he said.

The weather calmed again around 8 p.m. and they tried to drive away again, Halldorsson said.
The St. Andrews Towing track truck flattening the trail at Lake Winnipeg. (St. Andrews Towing)

"Another bad decision."

They got stuck again in the snowdrifts and couldn't leave their vehicle. 

"Tried to get out, and it was just a wall of white," he said. 

They were forced to spend the night in the truck. 

"You're hearing the ice crack underneath you, and you're like, 'Oh my God.' That ice is known to open and close. It wasn't fun."

They knew there were other shacks around them, but Halldorsson said they couldn't see them in the dark with blowing snow.

"We weren't that far from the shack, because when we got [up] in the morning we looked behind us and the shack was maybe 100 feet away," he said.

Without chargers, Halldorsson's phone died and they relied on Berens's phone to get help. They contacted Halldorsson's sister, who called the coast guard and the Selkirk RCMP.

"They were concerned," Halldorsson said of the RCMP officer who called him. "He says, 'Maybe we'll come out in the Ski-Doo,' and we didn't feel right."

RCMP confirmed search and rescue were called but decided it was best to wait out the storm. They assess every situation on a case-by-case basis with the safety of the public and first responders being the main priority, RCMP added.

Halldorsson said he didn't want the RCMP to come out, because he didn't want to put them at risk. 

"You're looking for a needle in a haystack, especially when you can only see 20 to 30 feet in front of you," he said.

The RCMP kept calling every couple of hours to check up on the men, Halldorsson said. They also called St. Andrews Towing. 

"When you can't see your hood in front of you and there's ice ridges and cracks, you don't know what you're going to be driving into," said Robert Stutsky, owner of St. Andrews Towing. 

Stutsky made sure they had enough fuel in their car to keep warm through the night, he said. He told them to crack a window and make sure the truck's exhaust pipe was clear of snow until his company could come in the morning.

Halldorsson and Berens sent Stutsky GPS co-ordinates, and Stutsky showed up with his track truck around 9 a.m.
A Selkirk ice fisherman wishes he would have checked the weather forecast before heading to Lake Winnipeg on Sunday after he spent 26 hours stranded. 0:24

"When we got up to them there was a snow drift up to the top of their hood almost," Stutsky said.

He pulled Halldorsson and Berens to the shoreline, then flattened the trail out of the lake and towed them out.

It was a $700 tow.

"I was like, look, I'll give you 10 grand. Just come get me," Halldorsson said. 

"It's just an eerie feeling," Halldorsson said of being stuck. "Your life flashes [before] your eyes."

Halldorsson said they should have stayed in the shack until the propane heater ran out and waited until the morning before trying to drive.

He said he will probably go ice fishing again, but next time he will check the weather and move the shack closer to the shore.

"It will be a lot more thinking, a lot more stuff involved after you get into a pickle like that," he said. "You never think about it until you're in it."


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