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An airboat heads on to the ice at Crane Creek State Park in Oak Harbor, Ohio, as part of the rescue effort on Saturday. ((Madalyn Ruggiero/Associated Press))

More than 100 fishermen were rescued from a slab of ice that broke free and floated away from the Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie on Saturday.

A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Petty Officer Robert Lanier, said 134 people had been plucked from the ice by late afternoon.

One person died after the ice shifted early Saturday, said Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton. The victim fell into the water while searching with others for a link to the shoreline, Bratton said.

Others tried CPR before the person was flown to a hospital and pronounced dead, Bratton said.

WTOL-TV in Toledo also said one person was taken to hospital after falling into the water. It was unclear whether that person was the single fatality.

The fishermen became stranded after a piece of ice 12 kilometres wide started to crack and came loose as temperatures rose above freezing, a coast guard official told CBC News.

"Overnight, as you know, we had some warm temperatures, and the ice separated from land and drifted out onto the lake," Petty Officer 3rd Class William Mitchell said in Cleveland.

By midday, the ice was said to have drifted about 900 metres from shore near Oak Harbor, Ohio.

'We were in no danger': fishermen

Some fishermen apparently used wooden pallets to form a bridge over a crack in the ice so they could go farther out on the lake Saturday early morning, officials said.

Mike Sanger of Milwaukee said the crack had been small in the early morning. "I didn't think the lake could go anywhere," he said.

It wasn't until late morning that fishermen began to realize the ice had broken away, Sanger said, and began to debate the best way to get off.

No one appeared to be scared, he said, and most chose to sit and wait for authorities while others went searching for an ice bridge.

"We were in no danger," said Norb Pilaczynski of Swanton, Ohio, who was rescued from the lake along with several of his friends. "We knew there was enough ice out there."

Sanger was rescued by a private charter air boat that was offering rides to those stranded on the floe.

Several ships and helicopters from Toledo and Marblehead in Ohio were sent to help rescue fishermen but some people were trapped on the ice for up to four hours.

Rescuers lowered baskets on to the ice from helicopters, and people climbed in and were lifted to safety. Others boarded whirring airboats that glided across the ice.

"We've been furiously working around the clock. We've been going out there and grabbing as many people as we can and then bringing them back," Mitchell said.

Back on shore, the rescued people were reported to be good condition, he said.

Thick ice on lake

Coast guard Petty Officer George Degener said Ice fishermen who regularly visit the lake have said this winter's thick ice has lured more people to the lake this year.

"In the Great Lakes, there is a great culture of ice-fishing and we think a lot of these people were out there fishing, and literally, overnight, this piece of ice that they were on, that they had built their sheds on, just drifted out," Mitchell said.

"It's not uncommon at all for hundreds of people to be ice-fishing in the same area, but it would be uncommon for all these people to be on a piece of ice that's drifting out onto the lake," he added.

Recently, ice on western sections of Lake Erie has been up to 60 centimetres thick, U.S. National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Randel said.

However, Ohio Division of Wildlife spokeswoman Jamey Graham said the state annually warns fishermen that there's no such thing as "safe ice."

With files from the Associated Press