An annual ice fishing tournament on Vermont’s Lake Champlain has been canceled following the tragic deaths of three fishermen since Thursday.
Vermont State Police reported that 62-year-old Wayne Alexander from Grand Isle, Vermont died on Thursday after falling through the ice.
Police found his body in the water hours after it was reported that he didn’t return home. His truck was also found at the scene.
Then, on Saturday, two brothers also died after their utility vehicle broke through the ice and they were overwhelmed by the freezing temperatures.
71-year-old John Fleury was pulled from the water and later died in the hospital while his brother, 88-year-old Wayne Fleury was found inside the vehicle by a diver and pronounced dead on the scene.
The Islands Ice Fishing Derby committee member, Gilbert Gagner, told CNN that the tournament was in its 43rd year and that he has been involved with it for 25 years.
The tournament raises money for conservation efforts on Lake Champlain and is a much-anticipated event for the community every February.
Gagner also owns Martin’s General Store which rents out ice fishing equipment, but due to the unusually high temperatures this winter and the recent deaths, he has decided to shut down the rental operation.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Gagner said, according to CNN. “This is craziness.”
The National Weather Service Burlington stated that the ice thickness on area lakes and ponds is highly variable due to the well-above-normal temperatures in the region over the past two months.
“Most years this is about the time ice typically forms on the lake, though it can be quite variable. If it weren’t for the last week of temps there would likely be little ice, and the next 2 weeks is looking warm with several days of wind,” NWS Burlington said.
Montpelier recorded its warmest January since 1948, while Burlington recorded its fifth warmest January since 1884.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that ice 6 inches or more can support snowmobiles or ATVs, 9 inches for cars, and 12 inches for medium-sized trucks.
Gagner said there’s about 7 to 11 inches of ice, which is not enough in certain areas of the lake to support trailers for the tournament.
Vermont Fish and Wildlife is advising the public to stay off Lake Champlain, with Commissioner Christopher Herrick telling local news affiliate WCAX that “Ice safety is the most important thing.”
“We really want to encourage people to not go out on the ice. Clearly it’s not safe. This is the second event we’ve had in two days. So ice safety is the most important thing,” commissioner Christopher Herrick told WCAX.
The tragic events of the past few days serve as a reminder of the importance of ice safety and the need to be vigilant when venturing onto frozen lakes and ponds.
It is heartening to see the community coming together to prioritize safety and cancel the tournament out of respect for those who lost their lives.