2008-01-26 / Front Page

Thin Ice

Buckeye Lake ice may not be safe
Photo & Story by Scott Rawdon

LAKE AREA- Be careful out there! Buckeye Lake is frozen over, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's able to support people. "We recommend not going out there," said Buckeye Lake State Park Manager Tim Waln. Frankly, Waln said he could never recommend going out on the ice because technically it's never safe-there are plenty of currents beneath the surface that can thin the ice above it-but right now it's particularly thin.

So, let's say you fall through the ice. According to WikiHow. com, there are many ways to survive. Brace yourself--as soon as you realize you're falling through the ice, hold your breath so that you do not breathe in water if your head goes under for a moment. If you have the presence of mind to lean back a little, this will also help you to avoid submersion of your head. Everything usually happens very quickly, though, so just be sure to immediately get to the surface if your head does go underwater.

Wear a flotation suit if you're traveling by snowmobile. Regular snowmobile suits can weigh you down and make escape from the water difficult. A flotation suit is more expensive, but worth every penny-- and more--if you end up needing it.

Keep a cool head-- you don't literally want a "cool" head, of course, but you do want to calm down. The body will react to the plunge by going into "cold shock," a condition characterized by hyperventilation, involuntary gasping, and internal responses including hypertension (high blood pressure) and changes in pulse rate. It's easy to panic under these conditions, but the fact is, you've got time: even in near-freezing water, people in decent physical condition will generally have at least two to five minutes, and sometimes much longer, before they lose the strength or coordination to pull themselves out. Panic is your worst enemy.

Stay afloat--though your head may have gone underwater initially, you want to make sure you keep it out of the water from here on out. Tread water, and lean slightly back to help you float more easily. Don't worry about getting out right away; in the first minute you should just concentrate on keeping afloat and not drowning. If a heavy backpack is pulling you down, ditch it.

Control your breathing--the gasping and hyperventilating associated with cold shock begin the second you go into the water and can last up to 4 minutes. You need to normalize your breathing as quickly as possible to ensure that you have enough energy and awareness to get yourself out of the water and minimize the risk of cardiac arrest (cardiac arrest resulting from cold shock is rare in healthy people, but can strike almost instantly in the elderly or people with preexisting heart conditions). Concentrate on slowing your breathing, and make an effort to take deep breaths (note this may not be feasible if the water around you is turbulent). If you continue to take rapid, shallow breaths, try breathing through pursed lips.

Position yourself to face the strongest part of the ice. Since you fell through the ice, you know that the ice around the edges of the hole may very likely also be weak. Generally, the strongest ice will be that which you were on just before you fell through. After all, it was holding you only moments before. In some cases, however, the edge from which you came may difficultto reach or may have fragmented. If this happens, just get to an edge that you can reach and which appears thick and intact.

Get as much of your body as possible out of the water. Grab onto the top of the ice and use your arms and elbows to lift yourself up. It's likely that you won't be able to get all the way out by doing so, but you can get a good start. You'll also lighten your load as water drains off of you.

Kick your feet and simultaneously pull yourself out. Since you generally won't be able to lift yourself upward and out, you want to instead "swim" out by getting your body as horizontal as possible. Lean forward onto the ice, and kick your feet as you would if you were swimming. As you do so, use your arms and elbows to push and pull yourself out of the hole.

Get medical attention promptly, even if you don't feel like you need it.

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