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Chicago man warns West Michiganders after falling through shelf ice in Lake Michigan

Posted at 10:36 PM, Feb 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-06 23:02:42-05

LAKE MICHIGAN — Bundled up and eager to experience Lake Michigan’s snowy shores, video, taken by his wife, shows John Jacobsen trekking along Loyola Beach in Chicago late last month.

“Once or twice or three times a week, we usually try to go for a long walk, and that’s one of our favorite spots,” said Jacobsen.

But after a few steps, Jacobsen plunges through and ends up a little less than knee-deep in the water below.

“I had actually thought I had stepped into a really deep snow drift,” said Jacobsen. “I thought, ‘Well this is really deep snow; why are my boots wet? My boots are wet! Oh, I’m in the lake!’”

Jacobsen dropped into shelf ice.

“No ice is safe ice no matter how long it’s been frozen,” said Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

According to Benjamin, shelf ice often forms along the shoreline with strong winds and waves building it up and creating sometimes dangerous conditions.

“These mounds, these hills, the tops of them there could be some weak points where if somebody were to fall in, now they’re in a deep cavern,” said Benjamin. “Even if they’re only in waist-deep or chest-deep water; there’s no way to climb out because it’s a wet ice wall on the inside; there’s nothing to grab.”

Benjamin recommends staying off the areas in and around Lake Michigan during the winter, including beaches and piers. He says if someone falls through, people should get their arms up on the ice, kick their leg up to get their body level, and then crawl out using the same path they took before falling in.

“You have up to one minute to control your breathing,” said Benjamin. “You have 10 minutes of meaningful movement; possibly climbing out a ladder or crawling onto the ice. And then less than one hour until hypothermia causes a heart attack.”

Jacobsen wants people to use his story as a cautionary tale.

“It can be a really scary situation; just be cautious of every situation that you’re in,” said Jacobsen.

RELATED: Coast Guard: 'Be prepared' when planning winter water activities

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