BELVIDERE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Two water rescues happened in West Michigan on Sunday afternoon just miles apart.

The first incident happened around 1:20 p.m. on Townline Lake in Montcalm County. Patrick Carr, Chief of the Lakeview District Fire Department, told News 8 that a 50-year-old man and a 6-year-old were out on the water ice fishing when the man fell in.

The child, who did not fall in, stayed on his sled while waiting for first responders to arrive. They were both 200 yards offshore, and it was hard for rescue swimmers and an airboat to get to them.

“We like to try and have a rope tethered to our rescue swimmers when we’re doing something like that,” Carr told News 8 on Sunday afternoon. “That’s really a long ways to go to be tethered. And then trying to get out there with our sled, or even a boat, you’re just breaking through. Not in a good way. It’s really exhausting. Those guys were whipped by the time they were done.”

Carr said the man was likely stuck in the water for an hour.

“It just takes a while to get out there when the ice is that soft and breaking through,” he explained. “So, they’re breaking through and swimming part of the time, and on top of the ice (they’re) crawling some of the time.”

The man refused medical treatment and it’s unclear what happened to him.

“The 50-year-old was really in tough shape when we got him off the ice,” Carr said. “He couldn’t speak or hardly move any of his limbs. If it would’ve been a colder day, it might’ve been a different situation.”

A rescue crew from the Morley Fire Department pulled an angler from Morley Pond on Sunday, March 5, 2023. (Courtesy Gary Lambrix)

Just minutes later and just over 14 miles away, a 43-year-old Stanwood man also fell through the ice at Latimer Park in Morley. The Mecosta County Sheriff’s Office says the first rescue calls came in at 2:44 p.m.

As he struggled in the water and yelled for help, rescue crews from the Morley Fire Department crawled 100 feet on thin ice to reach him and take him out of the freezing water.

Carr said ice fishing was especially dangerous on Sunday as temperatures approached 50 degrees.

“This time of year, when it’s starting to really get thin, a lot of open water, a lot of slush on top, it’s particularly risky to try to be out on the ice on a day like this,” Carr said. “There’s just so many unpredictable things when you’re out on a body of water like that. A different current or something else can change the ice conditions from what it was five feet from you.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says there is no specific rule for how thick the ice needs to be to be considered safe. The agency recommends looking for several warning signs that could mean weak ice.

Strong ice will be clear with a bluish tint. Weaker ice will appear milky because it is formed by melted and refrozen snow. Ice covered with slush is an indicator that the ice is not freezing from the bottom.

Warm spells may take several days to weaken ice, but sudden cold fronts can also make ice less stable by developing cracks.

The DNR also recommends avoiding areas of ice with protruding debris like logs or brush.