Man, 72, drowns after falling through ice while skating at Northern California lake

A map of the area north of Lake Tahoe showing where an ice skater fell into the water and drowned at Stampede Reservoir
A map of the area north of Lake Tahoe showing where an ice skater fell into the water and drowned at Stampede Reservoir

A 72-year-old man drowned after six people fell through ice into a Northern California lake Saturday while ice skating, authorities said.

Eight people were skating on the Stampede Reservoir, just north of Truckee, when six of them fell into the frigid waters, the Sierra County Sheriff's Office said in a release. The office Monday identified the 72-year-old victim as William Smallfield of Truckee.

Water temperature at the time was around 34 degrees, said Randy Malm, dive chair of a volunteer rescue team from Nevada's Washoe County Sheriff's Office, which was called out to the scene.

At those temperatures, people will experience a cold shock upon entering the water, making breathing difficult, and some will begin to panic, he said.

The two skaters who had not fallen through began to help people out of the water, but the group lost sight of Smallfield under the water, the Sheriff's Office said. He had reportedly been the farthest from the party.

The skaters contacted authorities, who sent helicopters to search the reservoir. The dive team also responded, but no divers entered the water, Malm said. Instead, the team searched the area using air units and an underwater drone.

Smallfield was not found Saturday, and search efforts were put on hold before resuming Sunday morning.

The dive team found him Sunday using the underwater drone about 37 feet under the surface, on the edge of an underwater canyon nearly 200 feet deep, Malm said.

Malm said the reservoir "still had a lot of open water" around the iced-over regions, which were becoming unstable because of rising temperatures, which were around 55 degrees in the area Saturday.

Malm added that people should abide by the "1:10:1" principle for self-rescue in the event that they fall into frigid waters.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, people who fall through ice have one minute to control their breathing and calm down, around 10 minutes to pull themselves from the water before they can no longer effectively use their arms and legs, and then around one hour to warm up before they lose consciousness because of hypothermia.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.