• John Jantak

Municipal officials urge vigilance when venturing onto the ice along the Ottawa River


JOHN JANTAK

Municipal officials are urging residents to be vigilant when venturing onto the ice-covered Ottawa River after a man in his 30s drowned when his snowmobile broke through the ice on Saturday night, January 31.

A man in his 30s who drowned after his snowmobile broke through the ice on the Ottawa River in Vaudreuil-Dorion on Saturday night, January 31, has prompted municipal officials to remind winter sports enthusiasts to always use common-sense and remain vigilant to weather conditions that could unexpectedly change the stability of the ice-cover.

Vaudreuil-Dorion Mayor Guy Pilon made the recommendation during question period at the Monday evening council meeting February 2, in response to a question about whether snowmobilers should even venture onto the river. Pilon said that even though the ice cover on the Ottawa River may appear solid, the rapid current in certain sections prevents the ice from forming a thick enough cover to support the weight of snowmobiles, which was probably what happened Saturday night when the vehicle broke through the ice.

Rescue divers spent the overnight hours soon after the accident, and most of the day Sunday, searching the cold water beneath the ice but were unable to find the body. A friend who was trailing behind on another snowmobile managed to stop his vehicle in time, but his attempts to save the man with a rope were unsuccessful. The snowmobilers apparently drove onto the ice from an entrance point on Rousseau Street in the southern section of Vaudreuil-Dorion that is used in the summer to launch boats into the river.

The entrance has since been blocked with a three-foot tall mound of snow. It is also unclear why the men strayed from a marked snowmobile trail to venture onto the ice. The late freeze and subsequent snowfalls that covered the initial coating of ice this winter season may have also impacted its thickness, which is why snowmobilers should never stray away from marked trails and venture into unknown territory, said Pilon.

It is also speculated that because the snowmobilers drove onto the ice at night, they may not have seen a section of unfrozen water that was clearly visible from the shoreline close to where the accident occurred. The incident serves as a reminder as to why snowmobilers and others, including ice fishermen who put fishing cabins and drive their vehicles onto the ice for an average three-month period, usually from late December into mid-March, may also be putting their lives in unnecessary peril, said Pincourt Town Manager Michel Perrier.

Perrier said the recent spate of below-average cold temperatures since early January may have given people the wrong impression that the ice is of the same thickness throughout the length of the river, when it actually varies greatly especially near strong currents.

“I was very sad and shocked to hear the news,” Perrier told Your Local Journal. “There is always a section of the river across the street from city hall that never freezes over. People also should never assume the ice is thicker near the shore. In some areas the ice is very thin the because of the current. It’s always tricky and people shouldn’t take the risk to go onto the ice.”

Perrier added that ice fishermen near Olympic Park are also at risk - even though the ice is thick enough to support the weight of cars and fishing cabins - because the water level could rise unexpectedly and destabilize the ice as happened two years ago. Town officials at that time promptly notified the fishermen to immediately remove their cabins and prohibited ice fishing for the rest of the season.

Ice fishing is also a popular activity in Notre Dame de l’Île Perrot and numerous cabins and vehicles can be seen on the Ottawa River about two kilometers south of Pincourt that is operated by the private Harfang des Neiges group, which allows people access onto the frozen river through private property.

NDIP Mayor Danie Deschênes said the group takes safety seriously and regularly monitors the stability of the ice. Whenever an anomaly is discovered, fishermen are required to move their cabins to safer locations.

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