An Orillia family narrowly escaped a life-threatening scare Sunday, when a mother and her 10-year-old son fell through the Lake Couchiching ice near Goldstein Road.
“My husband just recently bought a new ice hut and we wanted to go all out together as a family. He’s an avid ice fisherman and we all love ice fishing,” explained Marianne Gutowsky.
During the walk out onto the ice, Gutowsky and her two sons got separated from her husband Adam, who ventured ahead with a heavy sled and promised to come back to help his family with a lighter sled.
Soon after, Gutowsky and her sons ran into a spot of grey ice.
“There was a huge bad spot, but because there was two feet of snow on top of the ice we couldn’t see the quality of it,” Gutowsky said. “There was an island nearby and some rocks, so I think there might have been a pressure crack where the water was spilling over.”
Max, 10, had his foot go right through the ice, down just above his knee. He began screaming and panicking. As the worried mom walked toward him to help, she fell through the ice, too — all the way down to her hip on one leg.
“We started screaming so loud for help, but nobody heard us, nobody came. My seven-year-old took off running,” she recalled.
Gutowsky then tried to shift her weight in order to get out, and that’s when the ice around her broke. She went all the way in.
“I remembered watching this survival video the week before, and I remembered them saying just don’t move, just hold onto the ice and let yourself acclimate and do some deep breaths,” she said.
Once Gutowsky was able to calm herself down, she coached her son out of the ice. He was able to "army crawl" away from the danger and toward safe and secure ice.
The next challenge for Gutowsky was pulling herself to safety.
“I had rushes of feelings and adrenaline. I could feel that panic feeling, I had weird random thoughts like, 'this is it, this is how I die',” she recalled.
“I took deep breaths, I pulled my elbows onto the ice, and I started kicking my feet and swimming. And, as I pulled, more ice was cracking and falling into the water but I kept swimming," she explained. "I did that about three or four times until I was able to pull myself out, and then I army crawled to safe ice.”
Once they safely made it back to shore, their clothes were as hard as a rock thanks to the frigid temperature, which had dipped below minus-23 Celsius. Even now, three days later, their boots and snow pants are still wet.
When Gutowsky was reunited with her husband, he was shocked to learn what had happened as he had checked the ice during a mild day prior to taking his family out and deemed the ice to be safe.
Gutowsky is thankful to have survived and she attributes that fortunate fate to the video she watched on Facebook.
“I’m really thankful that I did watch that survival video because I think that is what kept me confident that I knew what to do,” she said.
“I had actually watched it a couple of years ago, and I don’t know why it came up, but it just came up on my news feed, and for some reason, it was on my Facebook again recently and so I watched it again.”
The traumatic experience is a learning lesson for the Orillia family — one they want to share with others so they can avoid the same situation.
“We learned that the saying 'no ice is safe ice' is 100 per cent true,” Gutowsky said.
“When the snow is on top and you can’t see the bad ice, you need to walk single file, and keep checking the depth," she warned. "If there is lots of water and slush you should be cautious that you are probably nearing a bad area.”
Gutowsky encourages people who want to venture out onto the ice to bring ice picks, wear survival suits, carry a whistle, stay together in a group, and be cautious.