Two men reported missing after falling through the ice on Charleston Lake have been found dead, provincial police said Monday night.
Leeds County Ontario Provincial Police said the sad discovery was made after an extensive search and rescue operation.
“On February 12, 2024, at approximately 4 p.m., members of Leeds County Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Underwater Search and Recovery Unit (USRU), and Aviation Services located and recovered two bodies from Charleston Lake. Their identities have been confirmed as the missing individuals,” police said in a media release Monday night.
“Our thoughts go out to the families of those involved in this tragedy. We ask media and the public to respect the family’s privacy.”
The victims were among a party of three people who fell through the ice while hiking in the area on Sunday. Police say one of them managed to escape from the lake.
While not identifying the victims, OPP Cst. Joey Mason said Monday night all three of the individuals were men, aged between 20 and 30, from the GTA.
Charleston Lake Provincial Park was closed to the public on Monday as police and firefighters continued searching for the missing men.
Police had earlier said one person managed to pull themselves from the freezing waters, but two people were still missing as of Monday afternoon.
“The one was self-excavated, he managed to get out of the ice by himself,” said Mason. “He was then able to grab attention of someone who called 911 on his behalf.”
At first, Mason and the OPP said the individuals were out ice fishing, then later in the day changed course and said they were hiking. Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands Fire Chief Mike Prior confirmed this. Mason later confirmed the three men were, in fact, on a hike.
The Emergency Response Team (ERT), Aviation Services, Underwater Search and Recovery Unit (USRU), Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), Leeds and Thousand Islands Fire Department (TLTI), and Rideau Lakes Fire Department were continuing to search for the missing people as of Monday afternoon.
By around 1 p.m. on Monday, helicopters were still being used to search the wooded area. Two helicopters, the OPP confirmed, were being used.
“We’re not sure if they’re in the woods around the lake or in the lake still,” said Mason earlier Monday.
On Monday night, Mason confirmed the two victims were found dead in the general vicinity of where they were first reported missing.
“It was a very quick recovery mission,” he added.
Mason said police believe the men went onto the ice, close to the shore, in an attempt to take photos when the tragedy occurred.
Prior said two of his firefighters were injured during the search and rescue attempts Sunday evening.
“One had sore knees and the other had twisted a knee,” said Prior. “The one guy went to the hospital to get checked out, while the other said he was OK and didn’t go to the hospital.”
The assistance from the helicopter was needed because those in need of rescue were “out at the end of almost a 10-kilometer trail,” said Prior.
Prior has been Fire Chief since 2021 and has been on the fire department for 36 years.
“This was by far my biggest operation as chief,” said Prior. “My biggest coordination of services.”
Prior urged the public to stay off the ice.
“My biggest message, and I’ll be quite honest, stay the heck off the ice,” said Prior.
Mason echoed Prior’s comments.
“No ice is safe ice,” said Mason.
With files from Ronald Zajac. The Brockville Recorder and Times