It was one of the scariest experiences for Austin Balem of Duluth, Minnesota, who was fishing on six inches of ice on Lake Superior on Tuesday.
“We looked out, and everybody was running,” he said. “And then we started running towards shore and looked, and it was probably 100 yards out of open water.”
“We were out there, having a good time, catching fish, and it just switched up that quick. You could definitely feel the wind switch on us really fast.” He had been out earlier in the week fishing in three inches of ice without a problem but this morning, he and 25 other fishermen were stranded on ice with no way to shore.
Soon some first responders were on the scene in minutes, while the Duluth Fire Department, the Duluth Police Department, St. Louis County Sheriff Office, and Mayo Ambulance arrived later for the rescue. The fishermen were ferried back to shore in small groups, a few at a time, leaving all their gear behind them.
“Yesterday at a little after 11:00 a.m., the Duluth Fire Department responded to a water emergency call in Lake Superior,” the Duluth Fire Department posted on their Facebook page. “A large group of fishermen had been fishing in individual fish houses when the ice that they had been on separated from shore. The anglers were located off of the Beacon Pointe housing development at 2100 East Water Street.
“Four Quint was the first to arrive a minute after the call came in and found a large group of fishermen who had collapsed their fish houses standing on a large ice flow. Crews were able to make immediate contact with anglers and brought three to shore.” They shared the photos of the rescue showing the fishermen waiting for help and then the rescue teams setting out with an inflatable raft to bring them to safety.
“The problem with ice fishing anywhere is it’s only as safe as it is at a given moment in time,” the Duluth Fire Department chief Shawn Krizaj said. The fishermen were feeling anxious about their gear, which was floating away from them, but there’s no official announcement on them. Meanwhile, Balem is happy and relieved to have been rescued and alive today, “I’d rather have my life than my gear, though,” he said.