Kerry Felton 2011-01-09

Search-and-rescue volunteer dies after plunge through ice
KODIAK: Victim was skating on thin ice and broke through in dark.

By KYLE HOPKINS,, Published: January 10th, 2011

The vice president of a volunteer search and rescue team in Kodiak died while ice skating at a popular local lake, a member of the group said Monday.

Kerry Felton, 40, began skating at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday on Island Lake, just north of town, his wife told Alaska State Troopers.

Felton lives along an arm of the lake where the ice was as much as 1 foot thick earlier in the day, said Nick Szabo, treasurer for the Kodiak Island Search and Rescue group.

But as Felton skated toward the main body of the lake, the ice may have softened, Szabo said.

"As he got out toward the mouth of the arm, the ice all of the sudden just pretty much disappeared," he said. "It was just barely an inch thick. And so apparently he didn't see that in the dark and went off into the thin ice and then went underwater."

Felton's wife, Karen, called troopers at about 11:10 p.m. Sunday to say her husband hadn't returned from ice skating.

Trooper divers and the city and Bayside fire departments began a search, but silt from the lake made it hard to find the body in the dark, Szabo said. Employees at a Kodiak dive shop also helped in the rescue attempt, said trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters.

They found no sign of their teammate, who was vice president of the roughly 20-person search group.

"Had it been someone else, (Felton) would have been one of the first ones on the scene," Szabo said.

The search resumed later Monday. Using an underwater camera owned by a Kodiak dive shop, troopers found Felton's body at about 10:25 a.m. in what looked to be about 10 feet of water, according to Szabo and state troopers.

"The trooper diver was in the water surface swimming and holding the device. Another person was monitoring the camera images and providing directions to the trooper," Peters said.

The body was about halfway up the northeast arm of the lake, according to Szabo, who lived along the lake for decades and said his property was used as a staging area for the search.

Island Lake is a popular spot for skating, cross-country skiing and snowmachining in the winter, Szabo said. But there are soft spots as well. "This isn't the first time the lake has claimed a life," he said.

Kodiak has seen relatively warm weather over the past two days, said Courtney Webster, a salesman at Orion's Sports, a local mountain sports shop. "Yesterday was pretty nice. (Monday was) cloudy and it's been probably around in the mid-30s."

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