Traverse City Coast Guard rescues fishermen stranded on ice floe near Sturgeon Bay

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STURGEON BAY, Wisc./TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (WJMN) – On February 4, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City launched two helicopters to respond to an ice rescue mission near Sturgeon Bay.

“There were a lot of people out on the ice there. And it was a very large crack that ran north-south and just took a huge sheet of ice and pushed it right out into the bay,” said Lt. Erin Nolan, a pilot for the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City.

Nolan happened to be on duty when the Coast Guard received a report of over 60 ice fishermen stranded on an ice floe.

“We launched out of Traverse City and flew straight over there. We knew there was some weather coming in from the south so we really wanted to make sure that we got over there in a timely manner to assess and see where people were at.”

The ice had broken free from land, and high winds associated with the approaching winter storm system quickly pushed the floe farther away from shore.

“A large chunk of ice had drifted away from there. When we showed up, it was probably something like 20 or 30 yards across, but by the time we departed the scene, it was well over 100 to 200 yards. It opened up significantly while we were there.”

The ice break near Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.
Photo courtesy: USCG Air Station Traverse City

Rescue swimmers were lowered to the ice, while local first responders and Coast Guard ice rescue teams arrived on the scene.

“Over 100 shanties were on that ice floe that was pushed out. So, that’s a lot of ice shanties to go through and make sure everyone is out and everyone’s safe. And particularly with something that size and with the weather coming in like it was, not a safe place to just ride it out and hope that it comes back into shore.”

Ice shanties on the ice floe.
Photo courtesy: USCG Air Station Traverse City

Thankfully, everyone was able to be brought back to shore safely.

“That’s one thing I love about the Coast Guard, is that you train for this stuff and you get to put it into action, it’s stuff you feel good about at the end of the day, so.”

Nolan offers some basic ice safety tips.

“Make sure you have all the gear you need to be out on the ice for a prolonged period of time. So, that’s warm weather gear. Please make sure you’re wearing your life jacket, have some way to self-rescue if you do fall into the ice. And be aware of your surroundings. Every once in a while look up and see where you’re at. Are you still in the same position you think you are or did your ice shift to the south a little bit?

Finally, tell someone where you’re going. Tell someone when you expect to be back. All of those basic safety things are going to build your safety net so when something like this does happen out on the ice, there are people and resources that are going to help you get back to safety.”

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