Unstable ice leads to a deadly winter

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Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department ice rescue practice.

By Angelica Morrison

This story originally appeared on Great Lakes Today and is republished here with permission. It is the first of two parts.

Snowmobiling is a popular sport on New Hampshire’s Lake Potanipo. Riders like the wide open spaces. It isn’t unusual to see them set up makeshift roads and racetracks and zoom around the ice.

Snowmobile enthusiast Chris DeJoy says it’s all good fun, but you have use caution. ​“I think a lot of people jump on a snowmobile don’t realize how dangerous it can be.”

This winter the lakes have been especially dangerous.

Up north, on Lake Winnipesaukee, three snowmobilers broke through the ice and died in a single weekend. One victim was a 15-year-old boy.

Other incidents have been concentrated in New York State. Nearly a dozen people died on the lakes. Among them were Edward and Steve Sattler.

The brothers lived just outside Buffalo. They were leading a family snowmobiling trip at a cabin up in the Adirondacks.

“We were all going up roughly a week after they went up, was the plan,” said Ryan Sattler, Edward’s 28 year old son.

At a coffee shop, he recalled how those plans changed suddenly. Just a few weeks after their deaths, a look of shock still glazed his eyes.

When the Sattlers brothers went missing. Ryan and his family rushed up to the cabin near Raquette Pond. There were search crews, state officials, helicopters, air boats, teams of divers. And, while all this was going on, the family waited.

“The waiting part was horrible to be honest I think at some point I just want to go do something I can’t sit here anymore because you sit and that gives you lots of time to think and that’s not necessary a good thing in that situation.”

And, when the waiting was over.

“They told us they found debris in the water, they wouldn’t give us specifics as to what the debris was and the helicopter landed which logically we were thinking if the helicopter landed they must have a degree of certainty.”

The family still has no idea how the two ended up in the water. They suspect the brothers were disoriented by Adirondack snow squalls.

The Sattlers had over 40 years of snowmobiling experience. It’s a part of their legacy. Ryan says his family has discussed whether they should continue snowmobiling.

“It’s something that we all enjoy doing together very much,” he said. “And, I don’t think they’d want us to stop snowmobiling.”

Chris Fallon of the New York State department of historic preservation and parks’ snowmobile unit.

He says the increase in deaths this winter is partly “attributable to it has not been a cold winter and a lot of times the ice has not been safe.”

And, sometimes speed is to blame.

Mark Tremblay is another snowmobile enthusiast from New Hampshire. He has some safety advice for snowmobiling on lakes.

“If you’re near any kind of questionable ice or you haven’t talked to an ice fisherman to find out if the ice is more than 6 inches thick, you don’t go,” he said. “Don’t go.”

Experts also say adjust your speed weather conditions, use the visual clues such as color and snow cover to help determine the thickness of the ice. Stay on the trails, ask other anglers and law enforcement about that day’s ice cover, and absolutely no drinking and riding.

Reporter Hannah McCarthy from New Hampshire Public Radio contributed to this story.

Google Maps of Reported Ice Related Deaths

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Tips for Ice Safety

  • Conditions of the ice vary depending on the lake. The best way to find the ice conditions for the day visit local bait shops, snowmobile clubs or law enforcement.
  • Buy ice picks or ice claws and wear warm clothing.
  • Tell someone where you are going.
  • Ice that is clear and is bluish color is the strongest; snow covered ice is generally unsafe because the snow retards the freezing process.

For more safety tips visit the Michigan DNR website.

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