Rescue boats and personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, a local sheriff’s office, and neighboring fire departments saved 40 people from a large sheet of ice that broke free from shore and was floating in Wisconsin’s Green Bay Saturday morning. “We had a report of an ice shove” Lt. John Bain of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office told Green Bay’s His office responded to the call for assistance at a little after 10 am.

An ice shove is term for a large piece of ice that is typically pushed against a shoreline. While the ice can give the appearance of being anchored to the shore, a variety of conditions and factors can cause the ice to pull away. This can result in large ice floes when a body of water isn’t completely frozen across its expanse, as is the present case with Green Bay. This incident may have been caused, according to reports, by a barge traveling through the bay, resulting in the ice destabilizing and eventually separating from the shoreline.

The incident took place near Point Comfort along the east shore of the Green Bay. Bain told reporters that he believes the ice fishermen were on the separated ice shove for an hour and a half. By the time help arrived, the ice was reportedly some 2,000 feet from shore and steadily drifting away.

Rescuers Saved All of the Anglers, with No Injuries

Lt. Jason McAuly, also with the sheriff’s office, told news reporters, “We ran into issues with ice breaking up as we were rescuing the people. So, it’s always a very dangerous event with the cold water and the weather. And we’re really thankful that all the cooperation and teamwork led to a safe rescue.” All 40 of the stranded people were removed from the ice by noon. By the time the operation concluded, the floating sheet of ice was nearly a mile from the shoreline. There were no reported injuries.

Both the Brown County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard unit out of Sturgeon Bay, employed ice rescue boats during the operation. The boats are air-powered and able to operate in water as well as on slushy surfaces or ice.  The boats are not typical airboats. Made in Marion, Wis., by 1000 Island Airboats, they’re specifically designed for ice rescues. To withstand the pounding these vessels typically receive on icy surfaces, they’re crafted with 18 layers of fiberglass and a polymer bottom. The boats are enclosed, enabling rescuers to pull victims from frigid waters and immediately work to warm them.  

More Than 100 Anglers Have Been Stranded on Wisconsin Ice in Last Two Years

Law enforcement agencies train for ice rescue missions, whether it’s people who have fallen through the ice and are in the water or anglers stranded on floating sheets of ice. Anglers getting trapped on ice floes isn’t that uncommon in the Great Lakes region, happening almost annually, according to law enforcement officials. Last year, 66 Wisconsin anglers were st›uck and rescued from a floating sheet of ice not too far from where this latest incident occurred.

Ice anglers are advised to always have a well-charged cell phone to be able to call for help. Bain also advises anglers to be aware of the conditions and possible undercurrents and to realize that situations can quickly change. Identifying escape routes and being able to quickly adjust to deteriorating conditions on the ice can save lives.