Nine people, five machines fall through ice at "HAWG" derby

No injuries reported


According to the Natrona County Sheriff’s Department nine people driving across the reservoir fell through the ice at Pathfinder during the “HAWG” ice fishing derby Jan 24.

According to Sgt. John Harlin three Polaris RZRs and two ATVs were reported to have gone through the ice. The were no injuries and everyone either self-rescued or received help from other fishermen.

Harlin said that high winds and warmer temperatures the night of Jan. 23 caused a series of fissures and pressure ridges on the reservoir. These, in turn, formed areas of open water and thin ice that were hard to discern on Saturday when cloud cover made for flat light. At least one of these pressure ridges was near the boat ramp and fish check-in station for the derby.

Saratoga resident Steve Fletcher was one of the people who fell victim to the open water when he crossed a pressure ridge on his way to weigh in a fish and his Polaris RZR sank in approximately 120 feet of water. Fletcher said he and a friend were driving over rough ice, at approximately 10 miles per hour, when they spotted a small area of open water ahead of them but were unable to stop before the UTV fell through.

Fletcher said they were surprised by the open water as the area where they were fishing had over one foot of clear ice. Fletcher said they were told by marina attendants that two other UTVs had gone through the ice in the same general area.

At the time of the accident Fletcher said there were no cones or areas roped off to indicate potential danger. Luckily, Fletcher was able to extract himself from the water and assist his friend out of the water as well.

Jeff Fleischman, a board member for the Pathfinder Boat and Fishing Club and a “HAWG” derby volunteer, said the open water on the reservoir during this year’s derby was an anomaly and, “Obviously had we known there was any kind of danger we would have said that report on our website.” Fleischman also does a radio interview with K2 Radio (1030 AM) during the derby to report ice and fishing conditions.

The ice was in great shape the weekend before according to Fleischman and the conditions changed rapidly from Friday to Saturday during the competition.

Currently, Fleischman says that the ice on Pathfinder Reservoir is unsafe and people should avoid fishing on it. During the derby he said he talked to one man who fell through the ice walking across the reservoir.

Sgt. Harlin noted that many people who drive enclosed cab UTVs don’t think about the unique safety issues of having such a vehicle on ice instead of on dry land. He recommended that users remove most or all of the enclosed cab components they might want for comfort on dry-land. Doors and windows can make it difficult to escape a sinking UTV. Harlin related the story of two people who went through the ice on Pathfinder in a Polaris RZR that had net doors and a half-windshield. The operator and his passenger were unable to open the net doors and had to swim through the half-windshield in order to avoid drowning.

Harlin said, “Have an emergency plan if that vehicle goes into the water: no seat belts, no locking doors, have a plan for how to get out of it.”

Based on Wyoming Game and Fish data the plains lakes near Laramie hold a water temperature around 35 degrees when they are frozen over. In a body of water this temperature, a University of Minnesota study estimates a person has 15-30 minutes before they become immobilized or unconscious and 30-90 minutes until death.

How thick is safe ice?

2” or less - STAY OFF

4” - Ice fishing/activities on foot

5” - Snowmobile or ATV

8” - 12” - Car or small pickup

12” - 15” - Medium truck

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources general ice thickness guidelines for new, clear ice state four-inches of ice is safe for ice-fishing and other activities on foot, five-inches of ice is safe for snowmobiles and ATVs and eight-to twelve-inches of ice is safe for cars or small pickup trucks.

White ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.


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