Similar tragedies shocked neighboring New Jersey suburbs on Wednesday as thin layers of ice on ponds cracked beneath the feet of two teenage boys.
Yousef Khela, 13, slid into frigid water near a public library in East Brunswick around 5 p.m. Just two hours later and 20 miles away, David Tillberg, 14, dropped through the ice in a local park in Carteret.
Neither boy survived the plunge.
"Our small community is saddened and shocked over this tragedy," Carteret Mayor Dan Reiman said in a statement on Facebook after Tillberg was pronounced dead early Thursday at a hospital.
The neighboring township's police chief gave a stern warning about the dangers of walking on ice.
"No ice is safe ice. If you see ice on a lake, it's not safe," said East Brunswick Police Chief Frank LoSacco, according to WABC. "Don't go out on any ice unless it's an ice-skating rink."
Every year, children and even some old enough to know better venture onto thin ice, despite warnings to stay away. And in many northern states, where ponds and lakes freeze over every winter, going onto the inches-thick slabs of ice is a common, if risky, recreational pastime. People fish, skate and drive snowmobiles on thick, clear ice.
So what should you do if you fall through ice?
Video: From slowing your breath to kicking your feet until your body is horizontal, here's what to do if you fall through ice. (The Washington Post)
"First, try not to panic," Minnesota state officials advise in a guide to surviving an accidental icy plunge. "This may be easier said than done, unless you have worked out a survival plan in advance."
1. Stay calm.
Don't let the shock of falling into the ice-cold water take over. This may be the hardest part of saving yourself.
"Suddenly you find yourself immersed in water so cold it literally takes your breath away," according to the guide. "And the pain is incredible!"
But you need a clear mind to rescue yourself from the water. You have about 10 minutes before your body gets too cold to pull itself out.
2. Let your winter clothes act as a buoy.
Keep your winter clothes on. Although you might think a heavy coat or snowsuit will immediately soak up freezing water and sink, they can actually hold warm air that will help you float.
"Heavy clothes won't drag you down," Minnesota state officials said.
3. Turn back toward the direction you came from and use the solid ice to pull yourself out of the water.
The ice is probably thicker and stronger where it previously held you up. You'll need solid ice to support your weight as you pull yourself out of the water.
"If your clothes have trapped a lot of water, you may have to lift yourself partially out of the water on your elbows to let the water drain before starting forward," according to the Minnesota DNR website.
Reach out and place your arms flat on the ice, and begin to squirm back onto the surface of the ice.
"Two words: kick, and pull," Gordon Giesbrecht, a professor at the University of Manitoba who studies hypothermia and is known as "Professor Popsicle," told ABC News. "Put your arms on the ice, and just kick your legs, and just try to pull yourself along the ice."
Ice picks can help a lot. Fishermen and snowmobile drivers often carry them in case ice breaks. Screwdrivers or even nails driven into pieces of wood as a homemade method can also be used to grip the slippery surface and claw your way back onto the ice, Minnesota officials said.
4. Stay horizontal on the ice. Don't stand up too soon.
When you manage to wiggle your way onto the ice, keep lying down. If you stand up, you might cause the ice to crack again.
"Roll away from the hole to keep your weight spread out," the Minnesota guide advises.
5. Warm up, quickly and carefully.
Once you're back on solid ground, the danger is not quite over.
Get somewhere warm, where you can change into dry clothes, as quickly as you can. The water in your clothes will start to freeze immediately, but you should have time before your body begins to lose more heat than it can create.
"It's going to take at least half an hour [in freezing water] before you became hypothermic," Giesbrecht told ABC News.
You should also seek medical help once you're out of the water. Your body can go into shock from the rapid temperature changes, according to the Minnesota guide. Cold blood from your hands and feet can rush into your heart.
"The shock of the chilled blood may cause ventricular fibrillation leading to a heart attack and death," according to the guide.
This article was written by Katie Shepherd, a reporter for The Washington Post.