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35 fishermen rescued from ice on Superior Bay

Fishermen wait to be rescued near Park Point on Saturday, Dec. 1. Nearly three-dozen fishermen were rescued. Photo courtesy of Larry Stauty.1 / 2
Tracks left by fishermen walking onto Superior Bay from Park Point end at open water on Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day emergency responders rescued 35 fisherman from the ice after it broke away from Park Point. (Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service)2 / 2

DULUTH - Nearly three-dozen fishermen were rescued from an ice floe on Superior Bay this morning.

According to the Duluth Fire Department, 36 fishermen and their equipment were stranded on the ice around 10:40 a.m. when strong northeast winds caused the ice to break away from Park Point.

Retired Vista Fleet Capt. Tom Mackay has been a resident of Park Point for nearly 75 years. He said Saturday’s weather resulted in a seiche, which is when the wind is so strong it pushes water to one end of a large body of water, causing levels to rise. Since the ice on Superior Bay wasn’t locked in to the shore, it came loose and floated out into the bay.

The channel kept open by tugs and ships also means that ice sheets can move more freely as well, Mackay added.

“That’s basically what happened,” he said.

Emergency responders from several agencies first responded to the area near the Duluth Rowing Club. But the scope of rescue operations grew as officials released there were groups of fisherman stranded between the rowing club and Sky Harbor Airport, DFD Acting Assistant Chief Mark Herman said.

Rescuers paddled two DFD and one U.S. Coast Guard rapid deployment craft to the ice. With ropes fixed to each end of the inflatable boats rescuers pulled fishermen on crafts from the ice to shore.

Rescuers also used a boat and ladder to bring 35 fishermen ashore. One fisherman washed to shore on his own.

Near the rowing club the fishermen were several hundred yards from shore when the ice cracked, while near the airport the fishermen were much closer to shore.

Herman estimated all the fishermen were off the ice within an hour. It took longer to remove all of the fishing gear.

“We didn’t want to leave their gear because they might be tempted to try to retrieve it,” he said.

Firefighters estimate that the ice the fishermen were on was about 12 inches thick. But Herman cautioned that the ice is always changing, especially now with ice breaking and shipping still active in the harbor.

“This happens every year,” he said. “The ice is always changing, always dangerous. When you’re out there you’re taking your life into your hands. Fortunately, everything worked out well today.”

Using an air boat, the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office Rescue Squad conducted a final sweep of the bay side of Park Point to confirm that no one was left on the ice.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Gold Cross Ambulance also took part in the rescue.

Ice continues to be unsafe in many areas, including Superior Bay. Fishing guide Jarrid Houston writes:

Warning: St. Louis River and the Duluth-Superior harbor ice is dangerous in many locations. As of this report deadline, we have found ice conditions on the sketchy side. There are lots of fresh cracks showing up that need a little time to heal (typical for early river ice). Shorelines on the river can often be unstable. It is important to practice safe habits and use extreme caution when ice fishing the St. Louis River estuary. Just because you witness somebody walking on areas that look "sketchy" does not mean you should. For those that fish the river system, it is important to have the proper safety equipment and always, I repeat always check and recheck the ice. Or, better yet, don’t venture out until conditions improve.

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