Snowmobile falls through ice
Incident prompts action at boat landing
By John Faucher
A New London teenager is safe following a frigid after school experience.
Avery Eplett, 17, of New London, had intended to take his first ever snowmobile ride on the Wolf River Monday, Jan. 15, when his snowmobile suddenly dropped through the ice at the Riverside Park Boat Launch in New London.
The launch typically has open water in it year round, due to its close distance downstream from the wastewater treatment plant’s outflow pipe. Recent colder than normal temperatures however caused a thin layer of ice to form, which then became covered by a light dusting of snow.
Eplett unloaded his snowmobile from a trailer shortly after 4:30 p.m. in the parking lot. He proceeded down the ramp to the river when his sled dropped through the ice approximately 20 feet into the landing.
“I had no idea the ice was that thin there,” said Eplett.
His father Dave Eplett said his son has experience riding trails and has been eagerly waiting for the trails to open.
“He’s had it out on Manawa Mill Pond this winter, but he’s never rode on the river,” he said.
The teen was traveling around 10 miles per hour when the sled broke through.
Eplett then quickly scrambled out of the water before his upper body became wet and he was able to call his dad using a cellphone.
“I was picking up my other son from an after school weight training program and Avery called and said he was off at the boat landing and needed a hand,” said Eplett.
“At first I thought maybe the sled came off the trailer partway or something. When I got there and I didn’t see a sled I asked him where it was and he pointed to the hole in the ice.”
“Soon as he said that, my blood got ice cold, and I was glad he didn’t get hurt,” said Eplett. “It could have been way, way worse.”
Avery jumped into his dad’s truck to keep warm while they phoned authorities.
The sled was still visible about 3 feet below the surface when police and firefighters arrived at the scene.
New London firefighters dispatched Ebben’s Towing and used a small fishing boat to attach grappling hooks to the sled from above.
Warning signs go up
New London Fire Capt. Don Conat said this incident was not the first time the department has responded to Riverside Park Boat Launch for a snowmobile that fell through the ice.
“Unfortunately if you’re not from the area or you’re inexperienced on the river you wouldn’t know the ice is dangerous there,” said Conat.
After firefighters cleared the scene they placed temporary barriers to caution others of the danger.
Conat spoke with New London Police Chief Jeff Schlueter early morning Tuesday, Jan. 16, to inform him of the situation. Schlueter then brought it up at a city staff meeting later that morning.
Chad Hoerth, public services director for the city of New London, said the parks department created “Danger Thin Ice” signs to place in each launch bay to let people know about the danger.
“These are temporary signs for now,” he said.
The department plans to have permanent signs made in the future that would be placed each winter.
Open water here to stay
Ben Gruel, New London Wastewater Treatment Plant operator, said the water from the plant’s outfall pipe averages around 50 degrees, which keeps the river shoreline open for some distance downstream from the pipe.
“During the early morning hours the discharge averages around three to four hundred gallons per minute. During the daytime it can average 1,000 gallons per minute,” said Gruel.
Before Saputo Cheese closed its New London plant, the treatment plant’s outfall pipe released an additional 200,000 gallons of water per day, keeping the water open for an ever greater distance from the pipe.
Conat cautioned snowmobile enthusiasts to be careful on the river wherever they ride.
He said a safer alternative for access is located 1.5 miles west of New London, along County Highway X at the Mukwa Wildlife Area parking lot.