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Tips for those drowning: What to do if car falls through ice

Photo: automail

Photo: automail

Tips for those drowning: What to do if car falls through ice

The snowfalls and frosts that gladdened us so much a week ago will not, alas, last until December 31, alas. Together with the warming, the ice that bound the water bodies will also thaw. This means that the "subglacial driving season" will begin, as the State Emergencies Service of Ukraine employees call it.

Every year, despite the warnings of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, 30-50 cars fall through the ice. Most often these are the vehicles of the fishermen who prefer to park not on the shore, but on the ice in order to save time. All sorts of drifters and bloggers are increasingly confident in competing with them. And we are grateful to them for this—thanks to their video, we have the opportunity to step by step analyze the algorithm for rescuing people from a sinking car and increase the chances of rescuing the latter. So, if your guardian angels failed to dissuade you, then at least minimize the risks.


1. Walk along the intended route for inspection purposes. Fresh tracks from other vehicles can serve as clues. You need to make sure that the ice is thick enough everywhere and there are no gullies, holes, cracks, and open waters on the way. The ice field looks solid only to the complete layman. Actually, the ice thickness on any water body is different. At greater depths, the water freezes more slowly—the springs spouting from the bottom warm up the ice "from the inside", streams and sewers—from the sides, and the air temperature fluctuations expand and compress the ice creating the "gullies".


Alongshore, in the area of rifts and rapids, at the confluence of the rivers, on bends, windings, and near the frozen objects, ice is always thinner. Listen and take a closer look at its behavior—if the ice is cracking or "whistling" under your feet, it is better not to continue.

Also, avoid places near dense reeds, where trees grow and driftwood stick out—there the ice is always thinner. As well as under the snowdrifts—a layer of snow blocks the access of cold to the ice. Therefore, it is safest to go ashore where the ice is visible and not covered with snow. The ice strength can be easily identified by its colour. The most solid ice is blue, and the white one is at least 2 times thinner. You should not only drive around but even bypass the matte white, yellowish, or gray areas. Dark areas pose the greatest danger—they warm up the fastest in the sun, and that means they become thinner. The safe ice thickness for the vehicle passage starts from 30 cm.

2. Drop off all passengers. It's one thing to save yourself, and quite another to be responsible for someone else. Who knows if they can swim and how they will behave in the emergency situations?


3. Prepare an "emergency hammer", a set of extra clothes and shoes by placing it in a barrier bag or a usual bag. It is also worth putting the driver's license and the car registration certificate there. Even if you manage to get out of the sinking car, you will get wet anyway. And the wind and frost in the open area are much stronger than on the shore, and wet clothes will instantly become ice-cold. Put firewood, liquid fire starter, and matches/lighter in the second bag.

4. Try not to go for a ride alone—you must have an auto sidekick. And not only for storing packages and parallel shooting—ideally so that the second car can pull your car out if something happens. That is, it should be equipped with decent snow tyres and have a winch or, at worst, a hook with a thrust cable of maximum length already attached to it.


Before taking the road, make sure that the towing eyes of your car are intact and if there are any at all—nowadays, even in crossovers, the stationary eye rings are replaced with screwed in ones. If this is your case, do not shirk installing them.

And remember: driving on unfamiliar ice with two cars at the same time is an even greater risk.

5. Roll the windows down and unlock the doors. Cars rarely fall through the ice with both axles at once, which means you will have 5-20 seconds to leave it. If you cannot open the doors, there is a chance to get out through the window opening. Remember that the heaviest part sinks first—the one where the engine compartment is. If you managed to get out, try to open all the side doors—this will slow down the dive, or even leave the car on the surface. And if everything happened in shallow water, there is a chance to pull it out on our own. It is also necessary to roll the windows down because the window lifters can short-circuit in water, and not all commercial vehicles, not to mention personal ones, are equipped with the "emergency hammers".

6. If you have neglected all of the abovementioned tips and found yourself trapped at the bottom of the water body, there are still grounds for hope. Get rid of as many clothes as possible—upon surfacing, they will literally drag you down, saturated with water and weighing several kilograms. Moreover, it will treacherously cling to any projections. The first two or three minutes you will not be cold due to the huge adrenaline rush. Even Vasyl Virastyuk will not be able to open the doors under water—the water pressure will hamper this. It will be possible to open them only when water fills half of the compartment. The missing glass breaker can be replaced by one of the rods in the removable headrest.

Before you "break through", it is important to orient yourself where you need to swim. The fact is that even the laziest current can carry the car a dozen meters to the side in a minute. And under the ice covered with snow, it is dark even in the sunniest weather. Therefore, look for the brightest place in the "ceiling" with your eyes—it will be this air-hole that you should strive for. Air bubbles reaching out to it from the car will become a navigation clue.


7. Having got out into the light of God, return to the shore following your own tracks. After recovering your breath, try not to stop anymore—it is the movement that will warm you best. Ask eyewitnesses to call an ambulance and rescuers, share dry clothes with you, and change in a heated compartment. If there is nothing to change into, wring out your clothes and wrap yourself in polyethylene to keep warm. You can drink hot tea only after you change your clothes and be in a warm room. Worse, if no one is waiting for you on the shore—then you need to run in the direction of the nearest housing or the road.

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