A fisherman who fell into the icy waters off Boblo Island is "lucky" a passerby heard his cries for help and was able to hold his head above water until rescuers arrived.

Emergency crews rushed onto the island ferry after reports that a man had fallen into the Detroit River near the Bob-Lo Island Beach House Restaurant around noon Thursday.

They arrived to find a man in his 30s struggling in the river while another man gripped him by the collar to keep the fallen man's head above water.

"When he fell in the water and was yelling for help this lady who was walking her dog heard him and this other man came over and held him up until we arrived," said Amherstburg Deputy Fire Chief Lee Tome.

"There's no doubt the gentleman that was holding him is probably the reason he's still around today," added Sergeant Matt Capel-Cure from Amherstburg Police who also responded to the call.

Transported to hospital

Rescuers laid flat on the dock to haul the man out of the river.

"It was very cold ... he was to the point where, when we pulled him out he wasn't moving very well, was numb and I believe hypothermia had set in," said Tome, who estimated the man spent at least 20 minutes in the frigid waters. 

"He's dressed for winter, got a winter coat on, is dressed pretty warm. I imagine once all of that clothing gets wet he was probably really struggling to stay above water and that water was very cold."

lee tome

Amherstburg Deputy Fire Chief Lee Tome helped with a water rescue Thursday and said the man pulled from the Detroit River is lucky a person passing by heard his cries for help.

The man was conscious and placed on a back board and treated by EMS before being transported to hospital.

Officials believe the man was fishing when he fell into the water. Capel-Cure said he was lucky to survive and reminded anyone near water to be especially careful in the winter months .

"Anyone wishing to go fishing or ice fishing is going to have to pay special attention to the water," he explained. "They shouldn't be anywhere near open water and before venturing about that the [ice] thickness is going to be able to support them and their equipment."