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Indiana Department of Natural Resources officials said it happened at around 5:30 p.m. Monday at West Beach in Porter County.
Four men and a woman, all in their 20s, went onto the ice on the lake when it began to crack, Indiana DNR said.
One of the men, now identified as 22-year-old Bryce Dunfee of Fort Wayne, fell through the ice and into the water. His friends tried to help.
“There was a big piece that gave way and he fell into the lake,” said Nicole Baumann with Indiana DNR. “They tried to rescue him but unfortunately they lost him. They couldn’t grab hold and he went down.”
The waves were about three to four feet at the time.
There were searchers on foot, in a helicopter and divers in the water. They were hampered by ice chunks, and high waves and eventually had to call the search off Monday night.
“Yesterday, it was a warmer day, about 50 degrees here, and so the ice was deteriorating and the conditions we had are very similar to right now where 3 to 5 foot waves hitting the ice, just beating up on the ice and making it even weaker,” Officer Neel said.
Strong winds and unstable ice make for a very dangerous situation on the lakeshore. Warning signs are posted urging people not to stand on the ice.
“It’s very unstable, the way that it forms, there are air pockets in it that make it very unstable,” said Indiana Conservation Officer Alex Neel. “You can be on ice that is thick enough to support a person and one step it could change completely and you can end up in the water.”
The wind and waves may be a big issue for search crews.
“They are looking at the wavescondition which are expected to get worse and the waves expected to get higher as the wind picks up,” Officer Neel said. “It’s very difficult to conduct a rescue on shelf ice because it’s just as dangerous for us.”
Baumann said the others in the group were from the Portage and Lake Station area.
Indiana Conservation Officers urged the public to stay off shelf ice along Lake Michigan as it can be unpredictable and extremely dangerous.
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