The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department today issued an urgent warning about potential danger associated with a statewide, social media-driven craze enticing teens to jump into frigid icy waters. Responding to the “Polar Plunge” dare, young people are jumping, dressed only in summer swimwear and without life vests, into frigid New Hampshire lakes and ponds, as well as fast-flowing rivers and streams coursing with snow melt. An insidious aspect of the trend is that participating youth must dare five other youth to take part, creating a fast-growing phenomenon with enormous potential for tragic outcomes.
Recent information received by the Fish and Game Department indicated that today (April 14, 2014), a large number of North Country youth had reportedly made plans to jump into the raging Connecticut River. Right now, the Connecticut River is boiling with fast, high water from the spring snow melt, with chunks of ice and debris coursing past.
Members of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Dive Team, who are responsible for drowning recovery operations in the state, are very concerned about the unsanctioned Polar Plunge activities youth are engaging in. “We are strongly urging youth not to participate, and we are asking families and community members to stay alert,” said Conservation Officer and Fish and Game Dive Team Member Glenn Lucas. “The potential for life-threatening incidents to occur, because of the Polar Plunge trend, is huge.”
Lucas noted that even when ice is not visible on top of the water, there can be ice below that can easily cause a slip into dangerous fast-moving water. In one recent incident recorded on Facebook, two New Hampshire teenage girls jumped into Garland Brook in Lancaster, slipped on the ice and were nearly swept into the current without life jackets.
According to the N.H. Marine Patrol, immersion in cold water can quickly render even a good swimmer helpless within minutes. Even short amounts of time exposed to the rigors of frigid water can exacerbate hypothermic effects. Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature, often caused by prolonged exposure to cold. Symptoms of hypothermia can include shivering, a lack of fine or gross motor skills, slurred speech, stumbling, confusion, poor decision making, drowsiness or low energy, apathy, loss of consciousness, weak pulse and/or shallow breathing. Those suffering from the effects of hypothermia may not be aware this is taking place. A person experiencing hypothermia while in the water is at a greater risk of injury or drowning.