Man falls through lake ice in unpredictable conditions

Various precautions should be taken when venturing on to lake ice (picture is illustrative).
Various precautions should be taken when venturing on to lake ice (picture is illustrative). Source: ERR

Emergency services were called out on Wednesday morning after a man fell through ice at Lake Pühajärv, in South Estonia.

The call was received by the Rescue Board at a little after 9.30, though by the time emergency personnel reached the scene, the man, who had walked on to the lake ice to go fishing, had extricated himself and reached dry land.

The man stated that he had broken through the ice several times during his ordeal, after venturing about 50 m from shore.

Whilst Lake Peipus, which makes up much of Estonia's eastern border, was declared safe to walk on on Saturday, along with several other lakes, Lake Pühajärv, just outside Otepää and about 50 km southwest of Tartu, was not on the list.

Volatile ice conditions

The minimum thickness at which lake ice is considered safe is at least 10 cm. Whilst ice had been measured at 17 cm on some parts of the 2.86 sq km lake, thickness varied hugely, and was reportedly only around 4 cm thick at the point where Wednesday's break through happened.

The incident was apparently not the first of its kind on lake Pühajärv in recent weeks; on December 4 another person fell through the ice there and was hauled out by a companion.

Precautions when traversing lake ice to go fishing or for any other reason are recommended by the Rescue Board. These include checking ice depths with a drill, carrying ice spikes, which can be worn around the neck and aid in extracting oneself in the even of a break through, and carrying a change of dry clothes packed in waterproof bags, as well as a fully charged mobile phone. Embarking on the ice with a companion is also strongly encouraged.

Breaking through ice can often prove fatal. In cold water, adults usually lose normal functioning and consciousness after around 10-15 minutes in the water, children and older people in even less time. Getting out of the water and back on the ice can prove challenging even for strong swimmers.

Whilst temperatures in the week leading up to Christmas were generally below zero, often into double figures, daytime temperatures are forecast to rise above freezing in much of Estonia for the rest of this week.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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