Sitting at my desk Wednesday afternoon, listening to callers tell me about the latest mystery photo, I missed the scanner traffic about a snowmobiler who fell through the ice on Hooper Pond in Greene. Fortunately, our web guru, Carl Natale didn’t and came over to ask if I had heard the call. “The guy is out of the water and walked to the road already and is waiting for rescue to show up, so it’s probably nothing, but I didn’t know if you wanted to go check it out.”
I had plenty of photos from other assignments and a video needing to be processed, but I have a thing for spot news and headed out. On the way, I passed an ambulance heading back into town and figured I was too late. I was. There were lots of tire tracks in the parking lot of the small rec area, but nobody around. I parked and walked down to the pond to see if anybody was out there, but nada. As I was pulling out of the lot, trying not to get stuck in the deep snow, a pickup pulled up and parked on the side of the road. I struck up a conversation with the man and discovered it was the father of the 19 year old that fell through.
He told me the boy called him after falling in. He had taken a wrong turn at the fork in the trail after coming back from filling up with gas and ended up on the brook that runs out of the pond and doesn’t freeze over until late in the winter. We thought we could see the machine on the far side of the lake and he started walking toward it. Naturally, I followed, both of us hugging the shoreline. I let him get ahead of me and when a big swirl of snow was kicking up across the way, I made the photo that was the best at the end of the day that would accompany a small story we pumped out online as soon as I got back and eventually ran small on the front page the next morning.
As we neared the mouth of the brook, we realized what we thought was the sled was a block of ice. We could see his son’s footprints coming out of the brook, and began to follow, but still staying close to shore. But it was a bog, and there was no real “shore.” After about 20 feet, we both broke through the ice and decided that was far enough and turned back. It was a soggy and cold return trip. He headed for the hospital to check on his son and I headed home to change before going back to the office to process the photos and write up what I found.
The next day I had a message on my office voicemail. It was from a warden that one of our reporters received after he called to get more information on the event. In the message he said it was not that big of a deal. The snowmobile never sank, it just was stuck after going through the ice and the rider only got wet up to his knees. For the warden, it was probably no big deal considering he has probably seen his fair share of fatalities surrounding this very scenario. However, I am sure it was a big deal to Drew L’Italian when he was going through it. I know just going through the ice where I knew it wouldn’t be very deep took my breath away. I can’t imagine what was going through this young man’s mind.
However, what scared me the most was some of the crass, heartless and ignorant comments that were written on social media. It was an accident. He took a wrong turn and got into trouble. It amazes me the amount of heartless comments I read on facebook, twitter, and our website. People are so quick to judge and pontificate. In the past 35 years of being a photojournalist I have seen the good, bad and ugly. Many people make mistakes and pay for them with their lives. Some do stupid things and escape without a scratch. While I admit we can be cynical and flippant back at the office, I always try to be compassionate when commenting online. I just wish more people would think before they clicked send.