Officials says a group of people who fell through the ice while skating on Lake Ontario around the Toronto islands early Monday morning are lucky to be alive.
Acting Platoon Chief David Quinn said firefighters, police and paramedics jumped into action after receiving a call at around 8:35 a.m. about a group of people who had fallen through the ice in an area known as Blockhouse Bay, near Hanlan’s Island.
“We're very fortunate Toronto Police Service’s marine unit were also dispatched along with our Toronto EMS services, and they were able to get all three of these patients out of the water,” Quinn said. “They’ve currently been transported to Toronto hospitals (and are being) treated for hypothermia and exposure at this time. My understanding was they were skating and they fell through the thin ice.”
Toronto police said two people were skating and fell through in an area where the water is about 20 feet deep. A third person spotted them from the shore and tried to assist them, but ended up in the water as well.
First responders found all three — a man and two women, all in their 20s — in the water when they arrived, hanging on to a thin piece of ice. The Toronto police Marine Unit was able to enter the water with special protective suits and ropes to rescue the skaters.
“Just to actually see these people still on top of the ice is actually a miracle in itself,” Const. Stacy Kellough of the Toronto Police Marine Unit said. “So that's how serious it got today.”
She said the three were wearing heavy winter gear and if the ice they were holding onto had broken off, “they would have gone straight down.”
Quinn said rescuers pulled the three from the water about 16 minutes after they went in.
“We got to our first rescue at about 16 minutes. So incredible amount of time to get them but that is not a lot of time in terms of survivability,” he said. “If it was longer than that, I don't know if we would have had the positive outcome.”
He said all three patients were taken away on stretchers and one of them appeared to be in critical condition, though they were still able to communicate enough to describe what happened.
“We're dealing with instantaneous hypothermia with these kinds of conditions,” Quinn said. “You've got maybe one to two minutes that you can function properly. All of a sudden your hands start shutting down.”
He said in frigid conditions such as these, one typically doesn't have more than five minutes or so before the body starts to shut down.
He said while there was some freezing on the bay, the area is unmonitored and unsafe for skating.
“We highly recommend that you check with the local authorities on ice conditions. I do not recommend at any time Lake Ontario as a (place for) ice skating,” he said. “We were very lucky today. Great work by all emergency services.”
He added that “we’re dealing with strictly minutes when you fall into ice water conditions” and said it was a “very lucky day for all three of them.”
Kellough similarly said it could have been “a very tragic event.”
She said “no ice is safe ice” when trying to evaluate whether to go out on a frozen body of water. She said if one does need to venture out onto ice for some reason, they should at least wear a life jacket to avoid sinking down if they break through the ice.
“We have safe ice within the city. The outdoor rinks is probably the safest place to be skating,” Kellough said.
While Toronto saw a blast of frigid weather last week, with temperatures in the -20s, temperatures have risen to around the freezing mark over the past few days.
Following the rescue, Toronto police issued a warning to the public to stay off of frozen waterways.
“Over the last week, extremely cold temperatures brought on a flash freeze to shorelines around Lake Ontario and surrounding water ways in Toronto,” police said in a statement. “A two day flash freeze will not make ice safe to walk or skate on. This is why TPS Marine, Toronto Fire and EMS are advising people to stay off the ice. The incident this morning could easily have ended in tragedy.”
All three people who were rescued are expected to recover.