Police are advising the public to take care while snowmobiling following the tragic death of a Sudbury woman on Wednesday.
First responders have recovered the body of 29-year-old Heather Lockwood from Oastler Lake in Seguin Township, who went through the icy surface while snowmobiling during heavy snowfall.
West Parry Sound OPP, with Parry Sound District EMS and Seguin Township fire department, responded to the incident at around 9 p.m. on Jan. 25, after receiving notice of a missing person.
While details have not yet been confirmed, OPP said Lockwood was attempting to meet up with friends who were fishing on Oastler Lake, but did not show up at the planned location.
After a search of the lake, officers found snowmobile tracks leading to open water.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing. An autopsy is expected to be performed in Sudbury to confirm the cause of death.
According to social media, Lockwood worked as a nurse practitioner in family medicine.
This is the second snowmobiling tragedy in 2023 to affect the Greater Sudbury area. On Jan. 17, OPP officers found the body of 53-year-old Sudbury resident Ronald Nantais after he went through the ice on Elbow Lake in the Estaire area.
Just last week, Ontario Provincial Police partnered with the Ontario Federation of Snowmobiles Club for a week-long social media campaign to promote snowmobile safety.
In a launch video for the Jan. 17 campaign, OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said 14 people died in snowmobile incidents across the province during the 2021-22 season.
“It’s completely tragic and preventable,” said Schmidt. “If you’re going to be out riding and enjoying this great winter sport, do it safely, do it responsibly, to get home at the end.”
Greater Sudbury Police Services is also encouraging snowmobilers to make sure they take precautions while enjoying snowmobile season to prevent similar tragedies.
“We know that our community loves winter and the opportunity to be out on the trails, but we want to ensure that everyone is safe and riding responsibly,” said communications officer Kaitlyn Dunn.
Before leaving, riders are encouraged to check the weather forecast and dress appropriately in layers, with either a snowmobile suit or windproof lawyer on top. Riders should also make sure they have a full tank of gas.
Most importantly, riders should let others know where they’re going and never travel alone.
“Tell someone where you’re going, the route you will take, a description of your snowmobile, and when you expect to return,” said Dunn.
While driving, police encourage riders to always drive within their limits, take extra care on corners and hills, obey all speed limits and road/trail signs, and always stay on the right-hand side of the trail. Riders should also learn and use proper hand signals when stopping, slowing down, or turning.
Extra care is also recommended at road and rail crossings.
“Cross roads at designated crossing and at a 90-degree angle so you can cross safely and quickly,” said Dunn.
Riders must also stay off private property, unless proper permission is obtained from the land owner.
When traveling at night, police advise that riders reduced their speed.
“Some hazards are harder to see in the dark,” said Dunn. “Use your headlights and drive at a speed where they can shine ahead of you.”
Also ensure that clothing has reflective markings so you are more visible to others.
Bodies of water are some of the most dangerous hazards for snowmobilers, increasing the risk of hypothermia and creating treacherous and difficult-to-escape environments.
Police advise riders to avoid all unfamiliar lakes and rivers, even those that appear frozen. Open water is not always visible.
Riders should always check ice conditions with the local snowmobile club before heading out.
If driving over ice is required, wear a buoyant snowmobile suit. Ideal ice for driving on is new, hard and clear. Never drive on ice that is slushy, weak, near moving water, or has recently thawed and refrozen.
By Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jan 28, 2023