GENEVA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - A father and son who were ice fishing on Moon Lake in Geneva Township fell through the ice on Thursday morning and had to be rescued.
Van Buren County rescuers from the sheriff's department and local fire department were called to the scene just off of 60th Street north of County Road 384 around 8 a.m.
Richard Abbott, 52, fell through the ice first. His father, 73-year-old Dean Abbott, tried to help his son by throwing a rope, but then he also fell through the ice, an official told 24 Hour News 8.
"I dodged a big bullet there," Richard Abbott told 24 Hour News 8. "You don't know what's going to happen... [I] just didn't want to go under."
Richard told us he and his father went ice fishing out on Moon Lake on Wednesday evening, just like they've done every winter for the past 45 years. On Wednesday, there wasn't a problem, but when Thursday morning rolled around, the ice was much thinner.
"We were just walking out across the lake, and there was just a crack that was all the way across the entire lake," said Richard. "We talked about [the crack] last night, and just walking up to it, and I was standing, looking at it, and the ice just went out from underneath my feet and I went straight down."
Richard said his dad saw him struggling and rushed over to help, only to fall in himself.
While in the water, the men began screaming and a person living nearby heard the calls for help and dialed 911.
"Your heart's beating, but first thing you want to do is try to get out," said Richard. "I was more worried about my dad getting out than myself. You know, his age was against him to begin with, and that was my first priority. I had to get out to get him out, and that's exactly what happened."
Richard said he struggled to get out of the freezing cold water for about a half hour, but the combination of the thin ice, and heavy, water logged clothes made it nearly impossible.
"It took quite awhile because the ice just kept breaking," said Richard. "I was trying to get out and it just kept breaking."
Richard said that, luckily, his boots floated, and he was able to push off a thick shelf of ice and up onto the top of the lake's icy surface.
After freeing himself, Richard went to shore to get a row boat to try and help his father. Richard said he pushed it across the lake's surface to his father, but had a difficult time getting the older man out of the lake since his clothes were so water-logged.
Van Buren county sheriff's deputies and firefighters responded to the scene within minutes and used boats in the area to get to the pair and help Dean out of the water.
They were taken to the hospital, where Richard's temperature had dropped to 95 degrees, and Dean's had dropped to 93.
"You just shake and you can't stop shaking," said Richard. "You want to stop, but you can't stop shaking."
Richard said he doesn't know who called 911, but both he and his father both owe them a great debt.
Back at the lake, after the men were safe, a firefighter suited up in a thermal wet suit to get the pair's gear out of the lake. Officials said they do that so no one tries to head back in the lake to get the property and then needs to be rescued.
South Haven Area Emergency Services Chief Ronald Wise told 24 Hour News 8 the combination of a warm winter and Wednesday night's rain caused the ice to be too thin.
"It really is a very dangerous time to be on the ice right now," said Wise. "There is really no safe ice right now especially with the rains that we've had over the past couple days."
Wise said there were many signs that the lake ice was unsafe.
"There were a lot of small holes in the ice that had already melted, the dock area the ice was already weak around the edges," said Wise. He also said the ice was different colors, not one solid clear sheet.
Since there were signs of trouble, Wise said they are currently deciding if they will charge the men for rescue efforts.
South Haven Area Emergency Services has charged people in the past for rescues. Wise said that the last time was several years ago, and in that case, a few kids got in trouble in Lake Michigan and needed rescuing. The total cost to them was $500.
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