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Four taken to hospitals after fall through ice on Lake Metacomet

  • KENNETH ROGERS<br/>After two men were pulled from Lake Metacomet in Belchertown, these rescuers returned to shore.

    After two men were pulled from Lake Metacomet in Belchertown, these rescuers returned to shore.

  • KENNETH ROGERS<br/>After two men were pulled from Lake Metacomet in Belchertown, these rescuers returned to shore.

Rescue workers rushed three unidentified men to area hospitals Wednesday afternoon after they fell through the ice while fishing on Lake Metacomet.

Two men who were ice fishing shortly after 1 p.m. fell through the ice about 75 feet from shore, said Fire Captain John Workman, and a third man with them was submerged in water up to his waist much closer to shore.

A firefighter who aided in their rescue was also hospitalized as a precaution and then released, Workman said.

Workman said he did not know the names, ages or conditions of the fishermen who fell through the ice and declined to release the name of the firefighter. He said he could not say if any of their injuries were life threatening, but said the men were conscious and breathing and “soaking wet” when they were rescued.

The two men who were in the middle of the lake were in the water for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, Workman estimated, which is more than enough time for hypothermia to start to set in.

Belchertown Police said in a statement that when rescue crews arrived, two men were seen in the water clinging to the ice, yelling for help.

Workman said that after the men were rescued, first responders treated them for shock, an early stage of hypothermia, in the ambulances. Cold shock treatment involves trying to bring their bodies back to normal temperature with blankets, intravenous warm fluids, or other methods.

“We were lucky here today,” he said near the shore of the lake off Bay Road.

Workman said the third man who was in the water near the lake’s edge made it to land and called 911 from his cell phone. Belchertown police officers were the first on scene and attempted to get to the struggling men using a canoe. “But they ended up stuck on the ice themselves,” Workman said.

The firefighters conducted the rescue using an ice rescue sled that can hold them on either ice or water. A firefighter in a cold-water immersion suit moved across the ice in the sled and slid into the water to get the victims onto the sled, which was then pulled to shore with rope.

Workman said it took about 15 minutes to assemble the crew and begin the sled rescue. It was also “challenging” to access the shore area nearest to the victims because it was down a trail and behind a locked gate, he said.

Workman said the firefighter who was taken to the hospital needed to be evaluated and treated for exposure if necessary. Though that firefighter was wearing a cold-water immersion suit, he stayed in the water longer than usual because a shortage of personnel meant he could not be relieved, Workman explained.

Amherst and Granby firefighters and State Police helped with the rescue. The Belchertown Fire Department was stretched thin at the time because its members also were responding to a call about a propane leak elsewhere in town.

Ice fishing season over

With winter nearly over, those who ice fish in the Belchertown area should consider the season over, Workman said.

“Don’t go on the ice, it’s just not worth it,” he said. “It’s time to be done.”

Workman said that ice can be especially “deceiving” in the spring. In the winter, the edges of a body of water freeze first and then in the spring, the ice weakens in the middle first, he explained. That means someone walking on the ice near the shore might assume that the entire lake is covered with an equal thickness of ice, when it is actually much thinner farther from shore.

The ice on Metacomet Lake was opaque white on Wednesday, which indicates weakness, Workman said. Clear blue or black ice is much stronger, he said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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