Three fishermen died last week after falling through thin ice on Lake Champlain. According to the Vermont State Police (VSP), two of the men drowned when the ice gave way as they were traveling to their fishing spot in a UTV. The other angler fell into the frigid lake and succumbed to hypothermia after leaving his truck at a nearby state park access site. The tragic deaths prompted the cancellation of an ice fishing tournament that was set to kick off in the area on February 11.
“The Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department has issued a request for the Islands Ice Fishing Derby to be canceled effective immediately,” explained tournament organizers in a Facebook post shared on the morning of February 11. “All ice anglers are asked to get off the ice.” In another post, the National Weather Service in Burlington said that ice thickness on regional ponds and lakes was highly variable “due to well above normal temperatures…over the past 2 months.”
Wayne Alexander, 62, of Grand Isle, left his home to go ice fishing before noon last Thursday, February 9. A relative went to look for him around 6 p.m., found his truck, and called 911, a VSP-issued press release states. Emergency search crews located Alexander in the water at approximately 9:30 p.m. He was later pronounced dead at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
On Saturday morning, just as the ice fishing derby was set to begin, the VSP issued another news release, this time announcing the death of brothers John and Wayne Fleury—71 and 88, respectively. The brothers perished after their utility vehicle broke through ice near the town of South Hero on the southern end of Grand Isle. Rescuers pulled the younger brother from the water and administered medical attention, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital. A diver later found the older brother trapped in the vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
Gilbert Gagner, the owner of Martin’s General Store, told CNN that he would not go back on the ice this year and was going to stop renting ice fishing gear for the rest of the season. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he told CNN. “This is craziness.”
The canceled derby, which was set to celebrate its 43rd year, raises money to preserve Lake Champlain. It was offering nearly $6,000 in prizes, along with ice fishing gear. The fishermen who drowned were not affiliated with the tournament, according to Gagner.