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Ice break-through, self-rescue on Mirror Lake caught on camera

The unidentified man who fell through the ice of Mirror Lake on Saturday, Dec. 26 crawls to a dock, where he was able to lift himself out and to safety. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — On Saturday, Dec. 26, an unidentified man broke through the ice of Mirror Lake while walking on the frozen surface and fell into the cold water. His fall and subsequent self-rescue were captured on camera by an Ausable River Association livestream (webcam).

The close call was discovered by the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute’s Water Quality Director Brendan Wiltse, who was concerned when he saw a hole in the ice while checking the camera to monitor ice condition later that day.

Wiltse searched back through the footage and found the moment the man fell in, in an area he estimates is around 15 feet deep.

Sometime between 10 a.m. and noon on Dec. 26 the man, walking alone, suddenly dropped into the lake. Using his arms and legs he dragged himself to safety after spending 34 seconds in the cold water.

“He got out really fast and appeared to know what he was doing in terms of self-rescuing,” Wiltse said. “He did exactly what you should do. He kept his arms on the ice to keep his head above water and then he laid himself flat.”

An unidentified man who fell through the ice of Mirror Lake Saturday, Dec. 26 walks away from the scene moments after pulling himself out of the cold water. This was all captured on a livestream the Ausable River Association hosts on their YouTube channel. (Photo provided)

In the video, which Wiltse shared on his Twitter account, the man can be seen using his legs to get himself out out of the water. When the ice breaks again he cuts through the thin layer with his body, moving closer to shore, eventually getting on solid ice and spreading his body weight out as he crawled to a nearby dock.

The video

The scene was captured by an ARA camera mounted on the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, facing north up the lake, with a dock in the bottom left corner. The whole video — from the man’s approach on the ice to his walk away from the dock — lasts one minute and 35 seconds.

In the video the man walks across the ice, several yards from the shoreline, sliding on the ice and holding a cup of coffee. He comes across a patch of ice colored more lightly than the rest. He turns around and stops for a second before continuing. Suddenly, mid-slide, the ice gives way and his legs shoot into the waters.

His arms land on the ice and he uses them to lift his legs out of the water on the other side of the hole. As water rapidly spills onto the ice the man slithers across the surface as it breaks in a few more places until he is fully above water.

Staying flat, he crawls over to the dock, lifting himself to safety.

He strides away, looking back only once and still carrying his coffee cup.

“Good ‘Leave no Trace’ practice right there,” Wiltse said.

The man had thrown the cup further along the ice once as he scrambled out of the drink, but picked it up again before he continued to dry land.

Ice tips

Wiltse said this event is a good reminder of the danger of walking on ice, which may be thinner than expected.

“As someone that works from frozen lakes for a living, I can(‘t) reiterate enough the importance of checking current/past weather, wearing flotation, carrying picks, and check the thickness,” Wiltse wrote on Twitter. “There is no such thing as safe ice. Warm temperatures and rain yesterday would have weakened what little ice is on our area lakes. Be safe folks.”

Though Saturday was cold — around 20 degrees Fahrenheit and windy — Christmas Day was very warm, with temperatures in the upper 50s degrees and rain.

On Tuesday, Dec. 22, the village of Lake Placid said its park staff measured the ice on Mirror Lake around the beach and toboggan area at between 3.5 and 4.5 inches in a Facebook post telling residents to not skate there.

“That is the limit of what most state agencies will say is safe,” Wiltse said.

He said ice is not a consistent thickness. Groundwater and storm drains — any inlet or outlet of water — can weaken ice with water movement.

Wiltse said looking at recent weather, checking thickness if uncertain and wearing flotation of some sort on the ice are the best ways to stay safe. He said some winter jackets come with flotation built in.

Wiltse’s tweet with the video clip can be found at https://bit.ly/3puJloj.

The Ausable River Association’s livestream can be found at https://bit.ly/3pu9u6L.