Manitoba

3 trucks, 2 people, a trailer go through ice on Lake Winnipeg Sunday

Experienced fishermen are shaking their heads after three trucks, a trailer and two people went through the ice in Balsam Bay, Man. while ice fishing Sunday afternoon.

Experienced ice fishers shaking their heads

A truck and trailer went through the ice in Balsam Bay, Man. Sunday, and caused two other trucks to go through as well. (Submitted by Steve Boyd)

Experienced fishermen are shaking their heads after three trucks, a trailer and two people went through the ice near Balsam Harbour, Man. while ice fishing Sunday afternoon.

Dean Stockmann, who has been ice fishing for nearly 30 years, happened to be on scene shortly after the vehicles were submerged because he was meeting a buddy near the lake. The trucks and trailer were already underwater when he got there, and the people who went in the water were making their way to shore, he said.

"I don't know how much [the trailer] weighs but... that shouldn't be out there until January, February," Stockmann said, adding that the trailer was about 27 feet long.

"For that guy to go out there with a trailer, it just doesn't make sense."

Stockmann tested the ice in Balsam Bay days before the incident. He estimated the ice to be 38 centimetres (15 inches) thick. That's just thick enough for a truck, according to the Lifesaving Society Manitoba.

A diagram showing how much weight can be supported by different ice thicknesses. (Submitted by Lifesaving Society Manitoba)

A couple of Stockmann's friends who live nearby the lake had seen Facebook posts about what happened. He told them to prepare some clothes, because Stockmann had spoken with the survivors and they said dry "socks would be nice."

Stockmann picked up socks, pants and coats from his friend. But by the time he returned, emergency services were taking care of the survivors.

Nobody was harmed in yesterday's incident, but the trucks and trailer are still submerged in the ice.

Brandon Friesen, owner of Winnipeg-based True North Track Truck Inc., was on scene to haul out the truck and trailer that went through the ice. But while doing that, a second truck nearby suddenly cracked through the ice and three men went underwater with it.

"Three guys came up. The last guy, when he finally got up, he was on his last breath," Friesen said. "If he didn't make it to the surface on that last second, he would have died."

"They were very lucky. The only reason they got out was because the passenger had the window open; you can't open the doors because of the pressure of the water."

Then, the third truck broke the ice.

Friesen was able to tow out two of the trucks, but the truck that was mostly underwater and the trailer are still on the ice because the ice is still too thin for them to be hauled out, Friesen said.  

Scene 'a big mess'

Stockmann described the scene at Balsam Bay as "a big mess."

There were more than 300 people on the ice yesterday morning, and some were fishing near the open water further out in the bay, according to a post from the Grand Beach & Grand Marais Facebook group.

After the incident occurred, many of those fishers were trying to get off the ice, but were having trouble, Stockmann said. 

Local fire and rescue was helping a number of vehicles that got stuck on the ice, "but it's become problematic with others still driving onto to lake," said a Facebook post from the Rural Municipality of St. Clements.

The scene also drew a large crowd of onlookers, many of whom were "shaking their heads at what was going on because it was really unnecessary," Stockmann said.

Steve Boyd, a sports fisherman who had been on the ice the day before, found out about the incident after a friend forwarded photos to him.

Boyd was driving by the area at the time and stopped by; there were two fire trucks, an ambulance on the scene, and the whole community came out, he said.

People on the ice were checking out the areas where the vehicles were submerged, while others kept fishing, Boyd said.

"It's the 8th of December. It doesn't really matter how cold it is, you don't drive a 27-foot trailer onto the ice," he said.

Boyd fell through the ice on Christmas Day about five years ago while walking, he added.

The trailer remained in the ice on Lake Winnipeg on Monday. 'It's unsafe. It's not worth it over a fish, in my mind,' said Dean Stockmann, a fisher with almost 30 years of experience. ( Chloé Dioré de Périgny/CBC)

Inexperience, eagerness played a role

Though the ice on Balsam Bay may have been about a foot thick, the reality is southern Manitoba experienced relatively warm temperatures last week and it's still early December.

"That's walk-out ice," Jim Skinner, a resident of Balsam Bay for 50 years, told CBC News. "You can possibly take a quad, but be leery of where you go."

Trucks — let alone trailers — on the ice creates a 50/50 chance of breaking through that ice because it's too much weight, Skinner said. 

"I don't gamble my life for a fish, but a lot of these guys are so itchy to go out," he said.

"He's probably done it before, but he did it when [the ice] was probably three feet thick."

Stockmann echoes those sentiments.

"It's just too much inexperience, and people not thinking about ice conditions," Stockmann said. "They just want to go out there and post pictures. They're too concerned about going out there and posting pictures of fish.

"It's unsafe. It's not worth it over a fish, in my mind."

People wanting to go on the ice have to know the lake's conditions before going on it, and "have to be vigilant" of weather patterns and how the ice is reacting, Skinner said.

Steve Boyd told CBC News the truck that went through the ice is still there. (Submitted by Steve Boyd)

Regardless of how thick the ice is, gusty winds in a wide open space like Balsam Bay can break it up "in seconds," and the movement of the water underneath the ice can have an effect as well, he added.

For example, flowing water underneath the sheet can erode the ice, said Dr. Christopher Love, water smart coordinator of Lifesaving Society Manitoba.

Ice will be unpredictable this year

Love warns that ice will be unpredictable this winter because of the high water levels Southern Manitoba has experienced this fall.

The levels resulted in frazil ice, which freezes together, but forms a weaker sheet of ice overall, he said.

"A lot of our ice is frozen up frazil ice at this point in time, because of the way the ice formed," he said. "We're not seeing good ice... and probably not for much of the season, and maybe even all of the season."

The high water levels in southern Manitoba resulted in frazil ice, which will freeze together but forms a weaker sheet of ice, according to Dr. Christopher Love of Lifesaving Society Manitoba. (Submitted by Jim Stinson)

Another issue is, eventually, the water levels will drop again. Which means ice sheets will not be supported and hollow areas will be created, Love says. In those areas, depending on ice thickness, the ice could cave in on its own, or weight placed on that spot will break through.

Love stresses people going out on the ice need to have a buddy with them, wear something that can float (in case they go through the ice and experience cold shock), and pack a personal safety kit.

The kit should contain ice picks, waterproof matches, a Swiss army knife and a plastic whistle. 

People can find more safety tips at https://lifesaving.mb.ca/water-smart/winter-safety/.

If someone has a valid Autopac policy and a valid driver's license, Manitoba Public Insurance will cover incidents like what happened Sunday, a spokesperson said Monday.

Balsam Bay, located about 75 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has grown in popularity over the past couple of years as a fishing spot according to locals.

About the Author

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter based in Winnipeg. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school before moving to Winnipeg. Prior to joining CBC Manitoba, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email at nick.frew@cbc.ca

with files from Cory Funk

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