MOSCOW - For a group of diehard Russian ice fishermen, the cracks that appear in the ice as the weather warms in spring are not concerning. But they ignore them at their own risk.
Over the weekend a group of about 675 fishermen off the coast of the island of Sakhalin, in far eastern Russia, were hoping to drop a line through the ice for one last time this season when the massive frozen slab they stood on suddenly broke off and began floating away. The fishermen were stranded on the newly formed island of ice as conditions deteriorated. It drifted half a kilometer, about a third of a mile, away from shore before running aground again.
Dozens of rescuers rushed to airlift the anglers or evacuate them by boat. They battled strong winds for seven hours until everyone was finally safe on land.
Such rescues are not uncommon in Russia where ice fishing is a popular pastime and many are sad to see it melt away with the coming of spring. Another 11 people were rescued for the same reason near St. Petersburg today. But the sheer size of this rescue made it a challenge even for local authorities accustomed to plucking stubborn fishermen off the crumbling ice.
According to Russian news reports the rescue over the weekend took over 40 people, 11 boats, and two helicopters working several hours to bring everyone to safety.
Authorities had warned local residents to stay off the ice, which had become unstable as the weather warmed and the winds picked up.
Some of the fishermen told local television crews that they went out despite the warnings because they feared it would be their last chance to fish on the ice this winter.