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Quick and effective actions save ice fisherman Lake Gogebic in Ontonagon County

Sixty-three-year-old Paul Boehm of Ontonagon is lucky to be alive today after falling repeatedly through the weakening ice of Lake Gogebic Wednesday afternoon.

At about 4:30 p.m. CDT, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers Jennifer Hanson and Zach Painter were notified by Negaunee Regional Dispatch that a man had gone through the ice near Merriweather in Bergland Township.

At 13,380 acres, Lake Gogebic is the Upper Peninsula’s largest inland lake, spreading across portions of Ontonagon and Gogebic counties. The lake is popular with anglers for its jumbo perch and walleye fishing.

Local temperatures had reached the low 50s by Wednesday afternoon.

A lakefront homeowner, Sue Barrette, who lives along Old M-28 near the Hoop ‘N Holler Tavern, had called emergency dispatch after hearing Boehm yelling and seeing him crawling on the ice.

“She said she saw him sprawled out on the ice and a few moments later, saw him break through, and observed only his head above water,” Hanson said. “She tried to reach him by paddle board but was unsuccessful due to a layer of ice that had him trapped in deeper water.”

Barrette yelled to Boehm, telling him to “Hold on,” reassuring him help was on the way.

When Hanson arrived, Boehm was well over 100 yards offshore. His wife would later tell police his ice shack was located a mile out onto the ice.

Conservation Officer Painter and Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Maxinoski of the Wakefield Post waded through waters near shore and attempted to help Boehm by throwing him a line with an ice rescue bag, but he could not pull himself out of the ice.

The two officers reached Boehm.

Rescuers from the Bergland Volunteer Fire Department and the Bergland Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene. Firefighters rowed a rowboat from shore up to the ice.

After the firefighters got out, Maxinoski pulled the boat over the ice to where Painter and Boehm were. They then secured Boehm in the boat.

Hanson and a Bergland firefighter waded out across the nearest section of water to the ice to help pull the boat to shore as Maxinoski worked to break ice with a paddle.

Lt. Steve Amsler from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission arrived with an ice immersion suit and helped break the ice free to the boat so it could be rowed to shore.

Boehm was taken first by Sonco Ambulance and later by Beacon Ambulance to Aspirus Ironwood Hospital in Ironwood. The Lake Gogebic Fire Department and deputies from the Ontonagon County Sheriff’s Office also assisted with the incident.

At about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Boehm was released from the hospital and was reportedly resting at home today complaining of minor ailments, including raw and numb fingers and bruised legs.

Hanson spoke with Boehm’s wife this morning, who said Boehm was doing well.

“While he was exiting the ice yesterday, he first fell through about 100 yards from his shack. He had fallen through a few more times but was able to kick himself out of the water and self-rescue,” Hanson said. “He crawled on his belly for quite some ways, but when he had fallen through again, he was so cold, wet and exhausted he could not get himself out.”

Boehm’s wife said Barrette saved her husband’s life by seeing him, calling for help and trying to calm him while they waited for rescuers to arrive.

“Quick and effective action certainly helped save this man’s life,” said Lt. Ryan Aho of the Michigan DNR Law Enforcement Division. “This is an example of how things can go wrong quickly and turn into a life-threatening situation.”

Today, a friend was able to retrieve belongings Boehm had abandoned on the ice, including his ice shack, cellphone and wallet.

Conservation officers remind ice anglers that there is no specific thickness of ice deemed to be safe. Always be prepared and cautious whenever venturing out onto the ice, especially early or late in the winter or during spells of warm weather.

Review more DNR ice safety tips.

Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows.

Rescue-1 and Rescue-2: Rescuers work to reach Paul Boehm of Ontonagon who fell through the ice of Lake Gogebic Wednesday afternoon.