Joe Kolanchick popped his head out of his ice fishing shanty on Collins Lake early Thursday evening and noticed the skater in the bright orange jacket he’d seen moments earlier had broken through the ice.
As someone on shore soon called 911, Kolanchick grabbed his rope, sled and auger, went over and pulled the man to safety. The 51-year-old man had plunged into the frigid February water in the area below the First Reformed Church. “It was all I could do to get him out of the water and on top of the ice,” Kolanchick, 34, said.
Kolanchick then put the skater on his homemade sled and pulled him to shore and waiting first-responders. Rescue officials estimate the man spent a total of about 15 minutes in the water.
Paramedics took the skater, whose name was unavailable, to Ellis Hospital for evaluation of possible hypothermia, Scotia Fire Lt. James Jones said. Jones called it a precaution and said the skater was stable when paramedics took him.
“It was impressive,” Jones said of Kolanchick’s work.
With darkness falling, Jones said if Kolanchick hadn’t spotted the skater, he night not have been spotted at all.
Kolanchick, a mason from Colonie, had spent much of the day out on the lake, starting at 7 a.m. He’s fished a couple of winter seasons there, always careful to continuously check the ice’s thickness.
It was a good day, too, he recalled, as he caught and released a couple dozen fish by 5:30.
Toward the end of the day he noticed the skater maybe two football fields away.
Kolanchick went inside his shanty to stay warm and a short time later looked out to check his lines. It was then that he noticed the skater in trouble. He grabbed his equipment and made it over, seeing the skater go under and resurface again.
The skater called for help and Kolanchick called back.
“He was talking and aware,” Kolanchick said, “but he wanted to get out of that water.”
Kolanchick got to the edge of the hole, close enough to reach the man. He tied a loop around the man’s wrist with the rope, wrapping it multiple times to ensure it didn’t slip off.
Then the ice under Kolanchick began to sink. He backed off, drilled a hole with his auger for traction and pulled.
Once the skater was on the ice, Kolanchick then got him onto the sled and ran the length of the lake to get the man to safety.
“He was talkative the whole way across the lake,” Kolanchick said. “I kept talking to him to make sure he didn’t pass out or anything.”
Kolanchick didn’t get the man’s name.
“I don’t want to think about it,” Kolanchick, the father of a 12-year-old daughter, said when asked what would have happened if he wasn’t there.
Before paramedics placed the man into the ambulance, Kolanchick said, the man thanked him.
Jones said of Kolanchick, “he deserves a lot of credit.”