Two men got on the ice at West Lake Friday morning. Only one safely made it back to his truck. If help hadn't been close at hand, it's doubtful the other would have made it home.
“Your local conservation officer is the hero of the day,” said Osceola Police Officer Gary Potter. “Michael Miller saved his life. No doubt.”
Police Chief Marty Duffus said he wasn't sure Osceola rescue services would have reached the man in time.
“I'm not sure how he even got out there,” said Duffus, as the ice had already receded back 15 to 20 feet from the shoreline.
Miller, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officer for Clarke and Decatur counties was driving by West Lake when he saw the two men setting up on the lake.
“I was surprised that people were out there. I was also surprised at how far they were out,” said Miller. “People here hadn’t been out ice fishing for at least five days.”
The young men, who had Polk County plates, said they had gone out over the dam. Miller told them to get off the ice, and about 10 feet from shore, one of them fell through into frigid water.
“It was an intense five minutes,” said Miller. “He said he was losing feeling in his hands and his hands were hurting.”
Miller was able to get a rope to the man, and with help from his friend, they pulled him to safety.
“Probably the place I really helped them the most was getting them off the water,” said Miller, as temperatures rose to 61 degrees on Friday. “If they'd stayed out two or three hours longer ...”
According to an Iowa DNR press release, ice fishing is no longer recommended for the southern third of the state. Miller encourages enthusiasts to head to the northern parts of the state, and even then, to keep a watchful eye on conditions.
“That good, clear, early ice is best,” said Miller, noting how dangerous thawing and refreezing can be. “Top water on top of the ice starts chewing its way in. You might have ice, but it's not good ice.”
Miller also had tips for surviving a fall through the ice.
“Number one, wearing a flotation device is important. Having ice picks is important,” he said. “Once you fall in the ice, you don’t have anything to grab on to.”
Buddy systems are essential but so is safety gear. New styles of flotation vests and retractable ice picks make it easy to stay protected.
Finally, said Miller, who is also an experienced ice fisherman from up north by Lake View, if you fall through the ice, once you get out, exit using the same path you used to get on the water.
“You always want to try to get out the direction you came,” said Miller. “That other direction might be worse.”