Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ice Fishermen Just Go With the Floe

ST. PETERSBURG -- On the frozen eastern banks of Lake Ladoga, 160 kilometers northeast of St. Petersburg, fishermen in the village of Olonets will be breathing a sigh of relief this week and talking about the big one that almost got away.

The big one, in this case, was a sheet of ice on which 75 people were fishing that cracked free of the shore, casting the fishermen adrift for the next nine hours on the icy waters of Europe's largest lake.

Hapless Russian ice fishermen find themselves lost at sea every winter, and fatalities are common. But this past weekend's search-and-rescue operation broke all previous records.

The fishermen, however, were rather blas? about the affair. Mikhail Kalinsky, one of the rescue workers with the Emergency Situations Ministry, said the men -- many of whom have been lost at sea on ice floes before -- were in high spirits.

Some even held up the rescue mission by continuing to fish through their precisely drilled holes, he said.

"Usually, they take enough vodka with them to keep warm for a few days, so nobody had to go to the hospital [for exposure]," Kalinsky said in a telephone interview Monday. "I don't think some of them even noticed the trouble they were in."

Kalinsky said he knew at least a quarter of the fisherman from previousrescue missions. "Common sense is not a character attribute of most ice fishermen," he said.

According to Tatyana Kalinina of Karelia's branch of the emergency ministry, the ice shelf, which was approximately 1 square kilometer in size, snapped off from the shore at about 8 a.m. Saturday, carrying with it 75 fishermen.

Rescue workers in two helicopters and three boats began searching three hours later, and saved the last fisherman at 5 p.m.

Kalinina said authorities were first notified by Raisa Lipotskaya, who

grew worried when her husband Ivan Lipotsky, 63, failed to return early

Saturday morning after fishing all Friday night.

"He's been in this situation before, so I knew who to call when he was

late," said Lipotskaya of her husband, who despite his brush with death Saturday was out on the ice of Lake Ladoga again Monday morning, his chainsaw and fishing pole in tow.

According to Lipotskaya, her husband has been plucked from ice floes by

Russian rescue teams three times over the past decade.

"But there's no way to stop him, he is an incurable ice fisherman," she

said, adding that she would be watching the clock closely at 7 p.m.

Monday, when Ivan was due to return. "At least he brought back a couple of big ones Saturday," she added.

Exasperated rescue officials are less forgiving then Lipotskaya, and

would like to start fining the stranded ice fishermen they save. Such a

system once existed, but was repealed in 1985.

"People like this Lipotsky should know better," fumed Oleg Seminogov of the Leningrad Oblast Emergency Situations Ministry in a telephone interview Monday. "It costs us millions of rubles to run a helicopter for an hour -- we are not made of money."

Leningrad Oblast administration spokesman Mikhail Mikhailichenko,

however, said no plans for reintroducing fines were on the

administration's docket.

"This is just something that comes with winter -- like snow or the flu,"

he said.

According to Seminogov, Saturday's mission was the fourth major rescue of ice fishermen launched in the Leningrad Oblast since November. He said it broke the Russian record for the sheer number of ice fisherman rescued at any one time. The prior record was set in Vladivostok in early December, when 11 ice fishermen where swept out to sea on a floe for the better part of a day, until rescue workers arrived to save them.

Saturday's rescue effort was also notable in that it yielded survivors.

Three people died Dec. 9 near the Russian-Finnish border town of

Vyborg when they drove their car out onto the Gulf of Finland and broke

through the ice.

A month earlier, in November, six fishermen were cast adrift on a piece of break-away ice while fishing on the Gulf. Bad weather, poor

visibility and a day-long delay before worried relatives contacted

authorities hindered rescue attempts. All six are presumed dead.

Four St. Petersburg fishermen were rescued Jan. 13, also in the Gulf of

Finland. According to Seminogov, the men had the foresight to agree

with a local police station on their estimated time of return.

Kalinsky said the emergency ministry issues warnings to fishermen to stay off the ice when temperatures have been above freezing within 24 hours prior to an ice-fishing trip. Though temperatures on Lake Ladoga on Saturday had dipped as low as -17 degrees Celsius, warmer temperatures Thursday and Friday had caused a partial thaw.

Kalinsky urged ice fishermen to heed radio warnings and to register with local police, or to at least warn friends and relatives, before embarking on trips.

Despite this official wisdom and the magnitude of Saturday's near miss, Kalinsky didn't think this would be his last rescue trip this year.

"Ice fishing is about being with friends and collecting adventures," he

said. "Most of these guys were proud to be a part of the biggest rescueever of this kind -- and I don't think any one of them will be putting away their gear until spring."