First Responders Mobilize After ATV Rider Falls Through Ice

Rescue personnel quickly mobilized to retrieve a Baileyville resident stranded on an island after falling through the ice. (Photos courtesy of Bob Fitzsimmons)

By Lura Jackson

Baileyville resident Mike Murphy is safe after the ATV he was riding across the St. Croix River fell through the ice on Tuesday, February 5th. Murphy was partially submerged in the water for approximately 40 minutes before pulling himself to an island to which rescuers rapidly deployed an airboat.

The incident happened at approximately 3 p.m. during the unseasonably warm day. Baileyville Fire Chief John McPhee said that Murphy had “been across there a million times, but this time he went in.” The call for a “person in the water at Squirrel Point” went out quickly across emergency channels.

“Everybody was responding,” McPhee said, describing how rapidly calls starting come back in from departments throughout the area. The Baileyville Fire Department was among the first to mobilize in the event that its ice rescue equipment was needed.

By the time the responders arrived, Murphy made it out of the water and to the island in the middle of the river, McPhee said. With Murphy safe on the island – though they knew he was probably incredibly cold – the rescue crews “couldn’t do anything” until the wardens arrived with their airboat, McPhee explained.

Fortunately, the airboat was located nearby, and wardens had it on site within 15-20 minutes. Crews worked together to launch the boat quickly and rescue personnel were soon underway across the partially-frozen river.

Arriving on the island, the rescue crew performed a quick assessment. “He was okay, he wasn’t hurt,” McPhee said, describing how he’d been submerged from the belly button down. “He was wet, and he was cold.” Fortunately, it was a warm day. “Luckily, it was in the 50s. The outcome might’ve been different otherwise,” McPhee said.

“The rescue was as good of an outcome as it gets,” said Maine Warden Brad Richard. “The location of the incident was only about 10 miles from where we keep the airboat so there really was no delay that often happens in these situations. The assistance from the other area agencies certainly made it go even better.”

ATV and snowmobile users are strongly cautioned to not cross at that particular area, McPhee said, describing how the mill sometimes has its gates open. Doing so creates a current as the water is drawn in, making the ice precariously thin at times.

Richard advised that ice conditions around the area are generally good, but cautioned to steer away from dam-controlled lakes. “The fairly abundant rain we had in January has required dam owners to open their gates earlier than normal and that can create problems around points and narrows where water currents tend to increase when the dams are opened up,” Richard said.  “It is also the same near inlets and outlets of lakes.”

 

If you aren’t sure about ice conditions, there are precautions you can take to avoid unnecessary risk, Richard said. “The best way to stay safe is to check ice thickness often as it can change dramatically in short distances.  If you don’t know how thick the ice is and do not have the ability to check, do not go. Never follow tracks assuming the ice is safe as conditions can change quickly due to weather and other environmental causes.”