Prince Albert emergency personnel warn of unsafe ice conditions following 3 deaths at Humboldt Lake

Two members of the Prince Albert Fire Department take part in an ice rescue drill in April 2022. -- Herald file photo

Local emergency responders are warning the public stay off of the ice following three deaths at a lake south of Humboldt.

According to an RCMP news release, officers were called to assist firefighters and paramedics on Saturday afternoon after five people had fallen through the ice into Humboldt Lake.

Emergency personnel saw three people in the water where the ice broke. A young girl was pronounced dead at the scene, while a woman and another girl were taken to hospital.

The other two men did not re-surface. The RCMP’s underwater recovery team located their bodies on Sunday evening.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” said Alex Paul, deputy chief at the Prince Albert Fire Department.

“We’re so early in the season, we’ve had very few days of below zero weather for ice to form.”

Paul said it’s uncommon for people to fall through the ice and into the river in Prince Albert. Throughout the winter, though, the fire department does get calls to help people get off of the ice who are unsure of a safe way off.

Members wear waterproof immersion suits to these types of calls, Paul explained, along with a harness and tether back to shore. They bring an inflatable rescue sled to carry others off of the ice, spreading their weight over a greater area.

Paul said moving water is especially risky.

“You may drill a test hole in one area and find that you have 12 cm of ice and plenty to walk on, but you could go just another 50 or 60 feet down the river or across the river and the ice could be half that thick, just because of the way the currents have eroded the ice.”

Even on static water, ice has not fully formed at this time of the year, although it may appear solid at the surface.

Lyle Karasiuk is a safety advocate and director of public affairs for Parkland Ambulance.

“A tragedy has happened simply related to unsafe ice conditions,” he said.

“When I heard about it and saw it on social media, I just thought I don’t ever recall being in Prince Albert that we’ve had somebody go out on an ice floe this time of year. We often hear, sadly, of people’s pets.”

The RCMP did not say if anyone went into the water to attempt to save another person.

However, Karasiuk said, it’s often the automatic reaction to jump in and try to recover somebody else – leading to further deaths.

“Going out to rescue them, even for the strongest and the safest and best swimmer, you don’t have all of the gear that say a fire service might have to get to you,” he said.

“We need to stop and think for just a second how to do it safely.”

Instead, Karasiuk recommended using an item like a tree branch or rope to bring the person back to shore and dry them off as quickly as possible. Paul added that, if you’re planning on going out on to the ice later on in the winter, to let someone know where you’re going and when to expect you back.

The Water Security Agency’s guideline shows a minimum of 10 cm of ice to safely walk on. A snowmobile requires a minimum of 20 cm, a two-tonne vehicle 30 cm, and a heavy truck over 30 cm.

The names of those who fell in the water are not being released because the incident is considered a sudden death investigation with no evidence of criminality. The Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service is investigating.