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Coast Guard, good Samaritan rush to rescue 18 stuck on Lake Erie ice

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Posted at 3:16 PM, Feb 06, 2022

CATAWBA, Ohio — A mass rescue was conducted Sunday afternoon near Catawba after 18 people were stranded on the ice.

According to officials, an ice floe broke away while people were snowmobiling, leaving them stranded on the ice.

The Coast Guard's airboat from Marblehead and helicopters from Detroit took part in the rescue, which began around 1 p.m.

Authorities said a good Samaritan with an airboat also assisted with the rescue.

It was believed around 20 people were on the ice at the time of the rescue, with the total number of people later confirmed to be 18.

A fishermen shares his tale
It all started as a normal ice fishing day for Bradley Bodek, who left with his father and uncle at 3:45 a.m. from Cleveland to go to Catawba.

Using their four-wheelers, Bodek drove out about 3 miles on the lake.

“There weren't any cracks. I will say when we left, the sunrise was beautiful. That was one thing that was always awesome when you go out on the lake," he told ABC News in an interview.

Bodek and his relatives drilled some holes in the lake and looked for fish. Throughout the morning, they moved a couple of times until about 12:30 p.m. when they noticed a Coast Guard helicopter circling above an airboat, which he later learned was operated by a man from Wisconsin who had been ice fishing since last Tuesday and was heading home Sunday.

After packing up their equipment, Bodek said as he was heading towards land, he noticed the cracks in the ice.

“We were probably only 100 yards from actual land, so we were so close, then had to head south and we were going to ride the crack all the way until hopefully, we could find somewhere where it didn't break off. Next thing you know, three more snowmobiles came and two more quads, and they said they just came all the way from 10 miles the other way. So the crack went from land to land and we were pretty much stuck,” he said.

The next thing he realized, the helicopter was rescuing a group of people who were walking. He believed they broke off on another smaller piece of ice.

“We were on that massive ice that everyone's seeing. Everyone was pretty cool, calm and collected. I'll say because we weren't too worried about sinking at any point. Like I said, the ice was probably 10 miles long and very wide, and with ice fishing there all day, we knew the depth,” he said.

In his 20 years of ice fishing, Bodek said he has had situations where he had to jump 1 or 2 feet across a crack in the ice, but never anything like what happened Sunday.

By the time they were rescued, the crack was about 100 yards wide.

"It was definitely an adventure and a memory I had with my uncle and my father. Wish we got some more fish, but I'm glad it ended well. All 18 of us were safe. Nobody fell in the water. My understanding, I don't think any gear was lost. So thankfully, everything ended safe.”

Those 18 people were on ATVs looking for a route back to land. The Coast Guard told everyone, including Bodek, that all ATVs had to be left on the ice.

Once on scene, the helicopter hoisted seven people from the floe, the Coast Guard airboat rescued four people and the good Samaritan from Wisconsin with an airboat rescued the remaining seven people.

No one required medical attention, according to the Coast Guard.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Morse served as the coxswain of the Coast Guard's airboat during the rescue.

"Even though they had about six inches out there today, it still broke off," he said. "That’s why the U.S. Coast Guard's rescue motto is no ice is safe ice."

The National Weather Service recently issued a Marine Weather Statement, in effect through Monday afternoon, stating that gusty winds will continue to pose a risk for ice floes to break off on Lake Erie, with people strongly urged to stay off the ice.

Less than two weeks ago, News 5 spoke with the U.S. Coast Guard based out of Marblehead about thin ice. Even then, those crews were already seeing areas with some cracking and shifting ice and a spokesperson brought up the issues for those using snowmobiles and ATVs on the ice.

"That can be really dangerous out there cause then you’re stranded with no way back to land," BM3 Tyler Lakatis with the Coast Guard said on Jan. 27. "Strong ice for a snowmobile would be about six inches. Anything below that you have a chance of breaking the ice and falling through."