Officials warn pond skaters to take extra caution following tragedy

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

Nothing could be simpler than grabbing one’s skates and heading for local ponds in the Czech Republic, now that real winter conditions have arrived. But officials are warning would-be skaters to take extra caution. Last week saw a number of serious incidents in which skaters fell through the ice. Most were rescued by others nearby, but one man was not so lucky.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
Cooler temperatures have been a long time coming, so it was not surprising that many got out their skates last week to skate on frozen ponds. But for one, a 40-year-old Prague resident on south Bohemia’s Staňkovsky rybnik, the decision proved fatal, after the ice collapsed unexpectedly beneath his feet. A day later, rescue workers in the area, as well as other parts of the country, were called to save eight others on ponds where the ice had also broken through. They were luckier, although those cases too could have easily ended in tragedy. As a result, officials are warning that even a week of cooler temperatures has not been enough to firmly freeze the ice in places and warned that anyone skating on local ponds should take extra precautions. Jan Sundermann works for the Czech Red Cross Water Rescue Service:

“Appearances can be misleading, not least if the ice has seen recent snowfall: you skate out a bit and suddenly you fall through. Salinity in the water or pollution can be factors affecting how quickly ice freezes. The most reliable way of testing ice thickness is by drilling, but you can also throw a heavy rock and check the effect on the ice - whether it makes a ‘booming’ sound or not. If there’s any sound of cracking, or sign of water seepage, you mustn’t step onto the ice.”

According to Mr Sundermann, the number of accidents on collapsed ice has been worse than in previous years, a result of winter coming relatively late in most parts of the country. The weather, while cooler in recent days, has simply not been cool enough. Once you fall through the ice into the water, it can be too late. Jan Sundermann again:

“If you’ve fallen into deep water through the ice it can be extremely difficult to get out. Your clothes are heavy with water and it’s difficult to manoeuvre and get your arms out and try to kick up onto the ice and roll to safety. If it all possible, don’t skate alone; it used to be that groups of skaters took along a ladder or a plank to push onto the ice, so that there was at least something to hold, something to grab on to.”

A number of sources, reporting on last week’s tragedy, showed some skaters equipped with ice tools to be used if they fell through while skating alone. Such decisions – as well as other precautions, officials have said, can mean all the difference.