A Nova Scotia RCMP dive team spent the day searching Black River Lake in Kings County for a man who's been missing since three snowmobiles went through the ice on Saturday.

"Everybody was just frozen, wet and cold. It was just a terrible, terrible night," said Randy Thorpe, who owns a cottage on the lake and helped pull one man out of the water.

Three people were travelling on separate snowmobiles. The two people rescued were taken to hospital, but their medical conditions are not known. A 26-year-old New Ross man is still missing. 

"On this lake, you can't go too far that way because it doesn't freeze, so normally they come close to this side," Thorpe said. 

Strong currents

The man-made lake is dammed at one end and is part of a hydro power system. Currents keep the water from freezing solid unless there is an extended cold snap.

"The current is so strong that the ice is not thick at all, so the rescuers cannot even walk out onto the ice. It's a lot of thick ice and slush and water in that area where they went through," said RCMP Const. Tammy Lobb.

Randy Thorpe

Randy Thorpe spotted the snowmobilers in trouble from his cottage on the lake. (CBC)

Its remote location also slowed down the response time for rescue crews.

Thorpe ran out in his slippers and saw one snowmobile had made it across, but another that was following had broken through the ice. 

Thorpe says he managed to flag down three other snowmobilers following in the same path.

'Go get help. Call 911'

"I said, 'Go get help. Call 911.' I said, 'Your buddies are in the lake over there.' So, he went down the lake and got some rope and a harness and he come out to help get a guy out of the water," Thorpe said. 

After stopping the three snowmobilers, Thorpe returned to his cottage to get winter clothes on, but went back out.

The snowmobile that made it across the lake was shining its light "like a spotlight" and Thorpe says he could see a man splashing in the water.

"I could see very well that that man was in deep trouble. But he was too far out for anyone to get to," he said.

"Then I seen another machine do a half-turn, he lost his speed and broke through the ice and down he went."

Hovercraft, Sea King helicopter assist

Thorpe says he helped get one man to an ambulance, but he too had broken through the ice into shallow water.

A Cormorant helicopter arrived at the scene after first responders.

"I think it was around –12 C or –14 C that night they were out," said Mark Redmond, deputy chief of the New Minas Fire Department. 

"I know our guys were out on our hovercraft for over an hour and they were very cold by the time they got back."

Thorpe says the remaining snowmobilers headed back into his cottage to warm up.