Two Men Survive Terrifying Ordeal on Lake
ASHLAND, Wis. (AP) -- For two terrifying hours, a pair of Wisconsin ice fishermen clung to small ice floes that rolled and crashed in Lake Superior while waves as high as 12 feet raged around them.
The men, 80-year-old Skip Wick and 61-year-old Mike Popko of Saxon, feared the worst.
"I really didn't think I was going to make it," Popko told the Duluth News Tribune.
Wick and Popko were among 50 to 75 ice anglers fishing on 1-foot-thick ice Saturday in Saxon Harbor east of Ashland. Wick said he was about 500 yards from shore when, without warning, a network of cracks appeared and suddenly began spreading through the ice.
"As I was standing there, the ice kept breaking up," said Wick, a retired shop teacher. "There was a big roar, like a jet going over, and here would come a wave."
The roar was the sound of waves that began to churn as high as 8 feet to 12 feet, lifting chunks of ice and slamming them against each other as far as Wick could see.
He yelled to his son and grandson to clear out. Those two made it to shore, along with the other anglers. Meanwhile, Wick and Popko began jumping from one ice chunk to another until they ran out.
Wick and Popko ended up on separate ice floes, about 30 yards apart. Wick estimated his floe was the length and width of a car.
"It was awful," Popko said of the surroundings. "It was like a bowl of Jell-O with all this busted-up ice. He (Wick) and I would be in troughs between the waves, and we couldn't see each other."
The men couldn't hear each other over the gnashing and grinding of the ice. They managed to stay dry and warm, although they were always at risk of being thrown into the frigid water.
"I looked at the situation and thought, 'Am I going to drown or get crushed to death?"' Popko said. "When a wave would crest, the chunks would separate. Then, in the troughs, one big chunk would crash into another one. It would about knock you on your rear end."
Wick felt isolated on his ice chunk. He knew no one on shore could get a boat or snowmobile to them through the heaving ice.
"I had no control over my survival," he said. "(But) I was never fearful. I was hoping I would be rescued by something. A chopper (helicopter) was my No. 1 thought."
As it turned out, firefighters from Ashland had a sea-going vessel that was up to the task. They launched a 20-foot-plus airboat, powered by a large single fan, and ventured out to where they could see Wick and Popko from the shore.
"I gotta be honest with you," said Lt. Tom Walters of the Ashland Fire Department. "My whole crew, we were pretty worried. We didn't know that the craft could handle that situation. We had never had it in water like that."
The boat bounced across the ice chunks and reached the men in about 10 minutes, Walters said. Rescuers threw a weighted rope to the men, and the watercraft was able to get close enough that the men could clamber aboard.
Wick and Popko both said they were grateful for the firefighters' efforts. However, neither man would say that the ordeal meant his ice-fishing days are over.
Wick said he's been ice fishing for almost 60 years, and he doesn't plan to stop now. Popko said he was torn.
"My wife said, 'You gotta promise never to go out there again,"' he said. "But fishing is one of my favorite pastimes."
Information from: Duluth News Tribune, http://www.duluthsuperior.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)