March 24, 2014
When two anglers fell through ice Thursday in northern Indiana, a DNR employee sprang into action, leading a rescue effort and preventing additional problems.
The accident is a reminder to anglers that lake ice is becoming increasingly dangerous with the arrival of spring. It happened around noon at J.C. Murphy Lake in Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area in Newton County.
Greg Rainford, a laborer at Willow Slough, answered the call to action, literally. A nearby fisherman who witnessed the accident used his cell phone to alert the property office. Rainford answered the phone, then hopped in a truck and raced to a fishing pier where he spotted the anglers, a married couple, 350 yards from shore in water that was 36 degrees at least 6 feet deep.
Rainford carefully proceeded onto the ice and attempted to rescue the man using a 25-foot throw rope. When that effort failed, Rainford grabbed the man’s hand and pulled him from the water.
“I think the adrenaline kicked in,” Rainford said.
In the meantime, two nearby anglers used Rainford’s throw rope and their own rope to pull the woman back to safety. Paramedics then evaluated the couple. They were cold and wet, but otherwise unharmed, Rainford said.
After the rescue, Rainford and other staff closed the lake and got others off the ice, said James Kershaw, public lands program manager with DNR Fish & Wildlife.
“Without his quick action, it’s unclear what the outcome would have been,” Kershaw said.
Rainford said the ice at J.C. Murphy on Thursday was four inches thick and looked strong on top but had “honeycombed” underneath.
“It’s deceiving,” he said.
No ice is safe ice, according to Indiana Conservation Officer Lt. William Browne. Conservation officers tell anglers to know how stable the ice is before they get on it, to make themselves as buoyant as possible with life jackets and float coats, and to never ice fish alone.
“When it’s warm outside, beware of thinning ice,” Browne said.
The fishing accident was the second time in two years that Rainford has earned recognition for job performance. In 2013, he earned a DNR Fish & Wildlife Award of Excellence for his leadership and willingness to mentor new employees. Rainford has worked at Willow Slough for 29 years.
“We’re real lucky to have Greg and employees like him,” Kershaw said. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”