Three brothers who fell through ice in a Shasta County lake trying to rescue their hunting dog and then each other were called heroes Monday night by grieving family members.
Two of the brothers – Noel Smith, 39, of Burney and Nathan Smith, 32, of Citrus Heights – died Saturday in the freezing waters of Big Lake, near the town of McArthur.
A third brother, Andrew Smith, 34, suffered hypothermia but survived.
"They were brothers who loved each other so much," said Lisa Smith, Noel Smith's widow. "In our eyes they were all heroes."
The brothers had gathered at Noel's home in Burney, about 25 miles southwest of Big Lake, she said.
The family released a statement Monday night describing the horrific events:
The Smith brothers were hunting ducks Saturday when Noel's Chesapeake Bay Retriever scrambled onto the ice and broke through the surface.
Noel Smith went to rescue his hunting dog. The ice broke beneath him, and he fell in.
Nathan Smith found a wooden post and reached out to his brother, as Andrew Smith held onto him.
The two brothers spread themselves out on the ice, but as they reached for Noel, the ice broke and they fell into the water. Andrew managed to escape.
Pat Oilar, chief of the McArthur Volunteer Fire Department, said the emergency call came in about 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
The first firefighters on the scene found Andrew shivering uncontrollably and hypothermic, Oilar said.
"He indicated his brothers were still in the water under the ice," the fire chief said.
More units were called for, the fire chief said. The ice was too thin to walk on, so a volunteer firefighter stopped a local duck hunter and asked to use his boat, Oilar said.
Firefighters broke through the thin ice near a boat ramp and searched the dark water using long poles and flashlights, he said.
After nearly a half-hour, they found the first victim in about 10 feet of water and pulled him to shore. They tried to resuscitate him but could not, Oilar said. The second drowning victim was found shortly before 7 p.m., he said.
"I saw no signs of life," Oilar said.
All three brothers were rushed to Mayers Memorial Hospital, 11 miles away in Fall River Mills, he said. Andrew Smith was treated and released. His brothers were pronounced dead.
Officials said the dog survived.
Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.