Coloradoan falls through ice on lake but survives
By Kirk Mitchell
Denver Post Staff Writer
A Nebraska man fell through the ice and died trying to
rescue a Colorado hunting buddy during a New Year's Day goose-hunting trip.
Art Stapleton, 54, of Aurora was walking across the ice on
Enders Lake in southwestern Nebraska to retrieve a goose when he broke
through the ice. His friend, Bill DeHart, 55, of nearby Wauneta had a heart
attack during the rescue, DeHart's family members said Saturday.
The grandsons of the two men flagged down a passer-by who
tossed Stapleton a wood chisel that he used to pull himself onto the ice and
to safety, Stapleton said in a phone interview Saturday from his Aurora
"There were some angels there," he said. "It could have
been a lot worse."
Stapleton said he loved his friend, and it breaks his
heart that DeHart died trying to save his life.
"He is a hero in my mind," he said. "I wish he wouldn't
have come out there."
Stapleton's grandsons, Jonathan Stapleton, 14, and Sage
Stapleton, 9, risked their lives by walking out onto the ice to save
Stapleton. They also fell through the ice, said 11-year-old Seth DeHart,
Bill DeHart's grandson, who called 911.
The two men took their grandsons goose hunting New Year's
morning. They had placed three decoys by the edge of the water and were
waiting behind a camouflaged hunting net
At about 10 a.m., Stapleton shot a goose, which landed on
the ice. Seth DeHart walked out onto the ice to get
the bird, he said.
"The boys were the hunting dogs; they were the
retrievers," said Traci DeHart, one of DeHart's four
She said her father had talked about getting hunting dogs
but hadn't yet done so.
"I walked out about 6 feet and turned. I got scared," Seth
DeHart said. "You could see the bottom of the lake (through the ice)."
Stapleton then walked out onto the ice, but the bird,
which was still alive, moved farther out from him, Stapleton said. He tried
to reach it with his rifle and crashed through, he said.
Stapleton said the ice broke several times when he pulled
himself up to his chest.
Stapleton's grandsons tried to go out to him, but when the
9-year-old fell through the ice, Jonathan helped him out of the water,
"I'm so proud of them," he said. "They kept their heads.
Jonathan was yelling at me not to give up. I didn't want to drown in front
of my grandkids."
The boys called for help on a cellphone and yelled for
assistance while DeHart crawled out onto the ice
toward his friend. He stretched out while lying on the ice and just as their
hands touched, DeHart plunged through the ice, Stapleton said.
They were swimming next to each other and talking strategy
one minute, and then DeHart disappeared into the water, Stapleton said.
Family members say DeHart had a heart attack.
Two other hunters who heard the boys screaming came to
help, Stapleton said.
While one went for a boat, the other tossed the chisel
about 40 yards. It landed within Stapleton's reach.
"It was amazing how close it landed," Stapleton said.
"Another five minutes and I would have been gone."
He said he was so weak he could barely hang on to the ice.
DeHart's body was recovered by divers about five hours
later, Stapleton said.
Stapleton and DeHart met five years ago when DeHart, a
plumber and electrician, worked on Stapleton's cabin in southwestern
Nebraska, Stapleton said. They became close friends and had gone on a few
dozen hunting and camping trips together, he said.
Seth DeHart said his grandfather was a hero.
"We all had a part in saving lives that day," he said. "My
grandpa died doing the thing he loves to do best."