GREEN BAY, Wis. (WCCO) — Ice fishermen in Wisconsin had a rare kind of scare this weekend when a large ice shelf broke off and drifted out into the water.

Darin Grieger and his buddies were part of the group of 34 people that had to be rescued by authorities in Green Bay. Grieger says soon after they got set up Saturday morning, he heard a loud crack. An hour and a half later, they noticed the ground start to move.

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“This gap started to grow and grow and grow,” Grieger said. “Within probably 30 seconds it was 10 feet where you’re not going to get across. [The ice shelf] was huge. So like half of the bay broke off.”

The ice ultimately traveled three quarters of a mile, getting about a mile out from shore by the time everyone was rescued. The Brown County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard used airboats during the rescue.

“The airboat was falling through the ice as they were circling to get us on, so at that point the ice started to deteriorate a little bit,” Grieger said. “That was the only time there was a little bit of panic in my mind.”

(credit: Daniel Larson)

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It took about 90 minutes to get everyone back safely. The sheriff’s office says a barge traveling through the bay may have caused the ice to break off.

“That may have disrupted the ice, so the disruption in the ice, along with the naturally-occurring conditions may have led to that,” said Lt. John Bain. “The current and the winds, things can change fast.”

Grieger also thinks it was the passing boat because satellite images he checked the night before indicated to him the ice was safe.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says ice is never 100% safe, and recommends checking the thickness at least every 150 feet.

“I told my buddy, it was his first time fishing, I said ‘Hey, next time’s probably not gonna be this memorable,'” Grieger said.

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No one was able to take any of their gear when they were rescued. Grieger says a man with a boat of his own made six or seven trips, charging $200 a trip, to get everyone their things back.

David Schuman