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Experts: Use cold logic when someone falls through ice

broken ice January 29, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Lisa Price

CHICAGO (CNN) -- It happens every winter. A lake looks frozen solid, then gives way once someone sets foot on it.

Watching someone struggling to recover from a dip in icy water can be a harrowing experience, but Joe Pecoraro of the Chicago Park District offers a note of caution: Don't rush out on the ice and try to be a hero. movie icon (1.1MB/22 sec. QuickTime movie)

"A lot of people just run out to the scene. And the moment you try to get close, if the weakest part of the ice is around the hole, the moment you step in that area, it's gonna break and now you got two people in," Pecoraro warns.

rescue

He ought to know. During this particularly bitter winter, much of Lake Michigan and the water around Chicago has been frozen, but that doesn't mean it's always safe to walk on.

As currents shift underneath the ice, the surface can weaken and become fragile, even if it appears to be frozen solid.

Just ask Sara Koeneke, who fell through a thin patch of ice January 2 in Mundelein, Illinois, about 150 feet from shore. Her friend, Scott Markus, tried to save her, but plunged through the ice while trying to help.

teens

"I ran out there. I took off my sweatshirt and lay down on the ice," Markus explains. "I threw it out to her, but the ice was too thin. I fell through, we were both treading water up to our necks for about 10 minutes."

Eventually, the two 16-year-olds were rescued by neighbors who used a boat to pull them to safety.

"I was scared I wouldn't get out of the water to say good-bye before I died," Koeneke says.

Water safety experts assigned to Lake Michigan during record-breaking cold weather say people who fall through the ice must be helped quickly.

Hypothermia can set in within a minute, leaving a person unable to use hands or feet.

"Try to get something to them as soon as you can or they won't be able to grab it; you're going to have to grab them," Pecoraro says.

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