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'Wild Ice' Skater Gives First-Hand Account Of Deadly Moment Ice Broke And Friends Fell In Sierra County Lake

TRUCKEE (CBS13) — For the first time, we are hearing the terrifying first-hand account from a survivor of that deadly ice skating trip in the Sierra this weekend.

The Sierra County Coroner's Office has identified the man who died as 72-year-old Bill Smallfield of Truckee.

Wild ice skater Laura Kottlowski says everyone in the group had years of experience on the ice, but not everyone was wearing their safety gear. She was, and she believes it saved her life and others.

"It's tragic, it's epic, it's tragic. We all experienced that," Kottlowski said. "Four went in almost simultaneously, so it was a situation where we all started feeling the ice being funky."

The frantic scene played out on Stampede Reservoir over the weekend. Photos show first responders on the frozen lake.

"When I have this on my body, this is on the back of my neck here," Kottlowski said.

Kottlowski showed the safety equipment she was wearing that saved her life: a life preserver and ice picks that allowed her to stab the ice to stay afloat and help rescue her friends.

Kottlowski says she joined the group just thirty minutes before the ice broke. Six others had been skating on it for three days, and had measured the thickness that morning at 3- to 4 inches.

"What is the measurement that you use to determine if an area is safe," CBS13's Steve Large asked.

"Ice screws," Kottlowski said. "So many of us take ice screws with us and drill into the ice to get an accurate read."

Kottloski says the hot sun and windy weather likely changed the conditions dramatically.

"It's my thought that maybe it's called candle-sticking, breaking apart underneath and there was also currents and it was a bit windy that day, too," Kottlowski said. "So I think a windy current under that candle-sticking made for that perfect scenario of a wide swath of ice like that breaking up simultaneously."

But one member of her group died in the frozen water.

"My heart just goes out to his partner, his wife," Kottlowski said.

Smallfield was a long-time employee at Tahoe Dave's ski rental.

He and his long-time partner were on the ice together that day. She survived.

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