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Lake Champlain ice fishing tournament canceled after 3 fishermen die due to thin lake ice


By Hannah Sarisohn, CNN

An annual ice fishing tournament on Vermont’s Lake Champlain has been canceled after the deaths of three fisherman on the lake since Thursday, an organizer of the tournament told CNN Sunday.

Wayne Alexander from Grand Isle, Vermont, died Thursday after falling through the ice, according to a release from Vermont State Police. The 62-year-old’s body was found in the water hours after he was expected to return home. His truck was found at the park’s entrance.

On Saturday, two brothers died after their utility vehicle broke through the ice, police said.

John Fleury, 71, of Williamstown, was pulled from the water and later died in an area hospital. His brother, Wayne Fleury, 88, of East Montpelier, was located inside the vehicle by a diver from Colchester Technical Rescue and was pronounced dead on the scene, according to an updated police release.

Gilbert Gagner, a member of the Islands Ice Fishing Derby committee, told CNN this was the tournament’s 43rd year and his 25th involved with it.

The derby raises money for conservation on Lake Champlain. The community looks forward to February for the ice fishing, Gagner told CNN.

Gagner owns Martin’s General Store, which rents out ice fishing equipment. But due to unusually high temperatures this winter, Gagner told CNN he’s not going back on the ice and is shutting down the rental operation.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Gagner said. “This is craziness.”

While the fishermen who died were not affiliated with the tournament, Gagner said there was no choice but to shut it down.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, the National Weather Service Burlington said ice thickness on area lakes and ponds is highly variable due to “well above normal temperatures” in the region over the past two months.

This year, Montpelier recorded its warmest January since 1948, with Burlington recording its fifth warmest January since 1884, NWS Burlington said on Facebook.

In a Facebook comment on a February 6 video post, NWS Burlington said if it weren’t for the record-setting cold front and that hit the Northeast earlier this month, there would likely be little ice on Lake Champlain.

“Most years this is about the time ice typically forms on the lake, though it can be quite variable. If it weren’t for the last week of temps there would likely be little ice, and the next 2 weeks is looking warm with several days of wind,” NWS Burlington said.

Gagner said ice in areas of the lake that recently froze over can be misleading and look deceptively thick.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ice 6 inches thick or more can support snowmobiles or ATVs. Ice must be at least 9 inches thick to support cars and 12 inches to support medium sized trucks.

Gagner said there’s about 7 to 11 inches of ice, which is not good enough in certain areas of the lake to support trailers for the tournament.

CNN affiliate WCAX reported that Vermont Fish and Wildlife was advising the public to stay off Lake Champlain.

“We really want to encourage people to not go out on the ice. Clearly it’s not safe. This is the second event we’ve had in two days. So ice safety is the most important thing,” commissioner Christopher Herrick told WCAX.

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