January 6, 2011 |

Skaters survive fall through ice

Tim McDonough said he and wife Ann Myren will be wearing new Canadian-made ice spikes on future skating outings following their fall through the ice at Chilkoot Lake on Dec. 16.

McDonough, 56, and Myren, 55, were skating in the moonlight around 9 p.m. when the ice gave way under them. They were 40 yards offshore, near a bay on the west side of the lake that’s only about a five-minute skate from the lakeside parking lot.

"It was just like, ‘Bang.’ We were swimming," McDonough recounted this week. Myren went down in a separate hole in the ice about 10 feet behind him.

McDonough said he couldn’t see his wife, but he could hear her. He was struggling. "Each time I got up on the ice, it broke. That happened a couple three times. I would pull up on my arms and it would break."

He said he was getting heavier in the water and his coat pockets – stuffed with an extra hat, a lighter and a head lamp – were catching on the ice ledge, preventing him from hoisting himself higher.

Myren got out first, apparently by pushing off the back of the hole she was in. "Her sense was the back of her skate caught something solid, and it was a push-off from there that helped her get out."

Myren then edged over to McDonough, dangling her skate that he used as a handle. "I grabbed her skate and I pulled myself right out." They scooted on their bellies about 40 feet until reaching marks left by previous skaters, indicating stronger ice.

Skating to the parking lot, they struggled to remove their frozen skates in the 15-degree weather. "We were starting to freeze by then. That was one of the hardest things, sitting down and getting your fingers to work."

Fortunately, they were only a short drive to their home on Lutak Inlet.

McDonough said their new gripped, ice spikes -- which clip together on a lanyard worn around the neck – would have been ideal for his situation. "If Ann hadn’t been there, I would have needed something like that to get up and over. I was getting heavier and heavier and it was getting harder and harder."

It also helped that he and his wife are both swimmers. "You’ve got to swim to get to the good ice edge and up and over it. I was treading water most of the time."

McDonough and Myren have skated on the lake about 20 years. They’d gone twice during the day before their moonlit scare, and had been following their previous marks in the ice, but had deviated from them when they fell through. Although there were patches of open water on the lake at the time, an auger had found ice on the lake that day at least three inches thick.

There were also two other families on the three-mile-long lake at the time of their accident. "They were off somewhere else. They didn’t even know we were there."

McDonough and Myren – who are sometimes the first skaters on the lake – typically drag ropes behind them on their scouting missions, but those may not have helped as they were skating close to each other and went in at the same time.

McDonough said it’s curious that he didn’t feel cold in the water. "My recollection wasn’t that I was cold. That wasn’t in my thoughts. It was swimming."

He said Myren, who was wearing polypropylene and other winter gear, fared better than he. "I had on Carharts and a cotton sweatshirt that was soaking up the water. I had on all the bad things."

He and Myren were back skating the following day, and took a look at the spot of their ordeal. "It was pretty unique looking. It was skate, skate, skate, then the holes, and these big wet spots on the ice."

Besides taking ropes or spikes, McDonough said skaters can use their eyes -- and maybe their ears -- to avoid their mistake.

Seams in ice typically show its depth, he said, adding that he doubted he and Myren would have been on that section during daylight.

He said Myren heard a "crinkly" sound just before the ice gave way. The couple posted a sign at the parking lot, warning other skaters about the spot.

About two dozen or more residents turned out to skate there four nights later during the lunar eclipse.