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Vermont ice fishing tournament canceled after 3 fishermen die falling through the ice

Two brothers died early Saturday, the day the 43rd annual Islands Ice Fishing Derby was set to launch, after their utility vehicle fell through the ice, police said.

An annual ice fishing tournament on Vermont’s Lake Champlain was called off at the last minute over the weekend after three men died when they fell through the ice during "abnormally warm" weather, officials said.

Organizers of the 43rd annual Islands Ice Fishing Derby announced in a Facebook post Saturday morning that the weekend event was being canceled due to "the condition of the ice."

The event was shut down after the Grand Isle County Sheriff's Department issued a request for it to be canceled "effective immediately," they said, as they asked anglers already out on the ice to clear the area.

"Tickets will be refunded," they said.

Ice Fishing Sand Bar Milton, Verrmont, USA
Ice fishing at Sand Bar Milton on Lake Champlain, Vt., in 2015. API / Alamy Stock Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

The cancellation came after three people died after falling through the ice, including two brothers who fell through hours before the event was called off, according to the Vermont State Police.

Wayne Alexander, 62, of Grand Isle, died Thursday after falling through the ice on Lake Champlain while ice fishing, according to a news release from the state police. His body was found in the water hours after he had been expected to return home, police said. He was pronounced dead at the University of Vermont Medical Center, police said.

Then, early Saturday, two brothers died after their utility vehicle broke through the ice, state police said.

Emergency crews had received a report at around 7:10 a.m. that a vehicle had fallen through the ice with two people inside, the state police said.

John Fleury, 71, of Williamstown, was pulled from the water, but died later in a hospital. His older brother, Wayne Fleury, 88, of East Montpelier, was later found inside the vehicle by a diver from Colchester Technical Rescue. He was pronounced dead on the scene, according to police.

State police said autopsies would be conducted at the chief medical examiner's office in nearby Burlington to determine the exact cause and manner of all three deaths. The agency said all three incidents appeared to be accidents and were not considered suspicious at the time.

It was not immediately clear whether the three men had been participating in the ice fishing derby. Organizers of the event did not immediately respond to an overnight request for comment.

The National Weather Service in Burlington had warned in a Facebook post Saturday that ice thickness on area lakes and ponds would be highly variable due to "well above normal temperatures" in the area over the past two months.

 "Ice is never 100% safe. If you don’t know, don’t go! Stay safe," it said.

Organizers of the ice fishing derby had also warned Friday that they did not “recommend anyone drive any type of motor vehicle on the ice this year.”

"We have seen an abnormally warm first half of February," the weather service said in a separate post early Monday. It said the trend was expected to continue through the week.