Family says men died trying to save cousins who fell through Humboldt Lake ice

StarPhoenix Photo. Humboldt's mayor said the family has had roots in the community for many years.

Thia James

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Two men who died in Humboldt Lake on Saturday are being remembered as heroes who tried to save the lives of family members who had fallen through the ice into the lake south of the city of Humboldt.

A girl and two men died Saturday after a group of people went through the ice, RCMP said in a previous media release.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday morning, a man identified the two men as his son and brother and the girl as his niece. He wrote that the men “heroically died in their attempt to save their cousin(s) from drowning after falling through the ice on Saturday.”

The men were identified by CKOM as Joe Novecosky and Chris Novecosky.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started to raise money to assist Chris Novecosky’s widow. As of Tuesday morning, it had raised more than $24,000 toward its $30,000 target.

“Chris died a hero, rescuing others that he loved in a tragic accident. In doing this, he demonstrated the greatest love, laying down his own life for others,” the GoFundMe description says.

It described Chris Novecosky as a “devoted husband, son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend.”

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said in a prepared statement that it’s “deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of a young student at St. Dominic School in Humboldt and two members of her family.”

The school division said it’s working closely with the family and school communities to support them at this “extraordinarily difficult time” and its Tragic Events Response Team is working with the affected school communities.

RCMP said witnesses told police they saw “numerous people” go into the water on Saturday afternoon and firefighters were able to pull a woman and two girls from the open water where the ice was broken through. The two men didn’t resurface.

One girl was pronounced dead at the scene, RCMP said. The woman and the other girl were taken to hospital.

The bodies of the men were recovered on Sunday.

Humboldt Lake is about 123 kilometres east of Saskatoon, and south of the city of Humboldt.

“They are well known,” Humboldt Mayor Michael Behiel told The Canadian Press. “They have had roots in the community for many, many years.”

He said people in Humboldt will band together while they mourn alongside the family.

He said the community developed resilience and kinship after the Humboldt Broncos crash, where 16 people died and 13 were injured after a transport truck went through a stop sign and into the path of a bus carrying the Saskatchewan junior hockey team on April 6, 2018.

The mayor said it’s important that people stay safe, especially this time of year when the ice hasn’t thickened. He said people should think twice before going on the ice.

“If you don’t have to, don’t do it.”

In general, Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency says people should ensure ice is thick enough to be safe before they walk, drive or snowmobile on it.

Ice doesn’t freeze at a uniform thickness and its strength can vary from one area to another, the WSA noted. Its safety can also vary over time, so it needs to be evaluated daily.

The WSA said ice should be at least 10 centimetres (four inches) thick to walk on, 20 cm (eight in.) to drive a snowmobile/ATV on, 30 cm (12″) to drive a car or light truck on and more than 30 cm (12″) to support a heavy truck.

However, the WSA said thickness is just one consideration when evaluating ice safety: clear, hard ice is the only ice recommended for travel.