January 1, 2013

Recovery effort for 3 sledders suspended

When the wind subsides, searchers plan to use sonar to locate the men who drove into open water Sunday.

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

RANGELEY - A recovery effort for three missing snowmobilers has been suspended because of poor weather, and it might not resume until Thursday, according to the Maine Warden Service. Meanwhile, residents are struggling to understand why five snowmobilers drove onto unstable ice Sunday night and directly into a 1-mile stretch of open water.

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Maine Warden Service Lt. Kevin Adam, right, comments Tuesday about the ongoing efforts to recover the bodies of three snowmobilers who went through the ice Sunday on Rangeley Lake in Rangeley. The body of a fourth victim was recovered earlier. “I’ve been a game warden for 21 years. I can’t think of another incident where four people went in to the same body of water in one night,” Adam said.

David Leaming / Morning Sentinel

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Rangeley resident Tim Lyons stands beside Rangeley Lake Tuesday near an expanding section of open water. Five years ago, Lyons' sled broke through the ice on Rangeley Lake, but he quickly scrambled out of the water. He was lucky, but it was a painful experience, he said.

David Leaming / Morning Sentinel

Additional Photos Below

During a news conference Tuesday morning, Lt. Kevin Adam said the recovery effort on Rangeley Lake will not continue until the strong wind subsides. Searchers plan to use sonar equipment to find the men, who are presumed dead, but persistent 2- to 3-foot whitecaps on the lake are preventing searchers from launching the boat that houses the equipment.

A 30 mph wind, which has been steadily blowing for several days in Rangeley, is a curse and a blessing, Adam said. The wind is hampering the recovery, but it's also preventing new ice from forming at the site where Glenn Henderson, 43, of Sabattus; Kenneth Henderson, 40, of China; and John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield, presumably drove into the water.

When the wind calms down, the wardens will have to work quickly as the surface begins to freeze, he said. When it does freeze, searchers may lose the ability to use sonar equipment, which will make the operation much trickier. The water at the site is between 60 and 100 feet deep. Warden service divers are equipped to reach to those depths, but it is "right on the edge" of what is possible, Adam said.

On Monday morning, wardens recovered the body of Dawn Newell, 45, of Yarmouth, which was found floating in the open water 16 hours after she went in. Earlier reports from the warden service said Newell's death was a separate incident, but Adam said Tuesday the accidents were somewhat related.

On Sunday afternoon, Newell and her 16-year-old son met the Hendersons and Spencer on a snowmobile trail, and then they all drove their sleds to a downtown restaurant, Adam said. At 7 p.m., all five left the restaurant and drove their sleds onto the lake ice. Shortly afterward, the parties split up and went in different directions.

Visibility was poor at the time of the incident, Adam said. Wind-driven snow had created whiteout conditions Sunday night, which could have disoriented the sledders and prevented them from seeing the open water until it was too late. All five snowmobilers drove into the lake through the same 1-mile hole in the ice, although in two locations. The water temperature was in the mid-30s, Adam said.

Newell's son, who was among those who drove into the water, contrary to earlier reports, was able to climb out and call 911 to seek help for his mother and himself.

The other three sledders were reported missing at 2:30 a.m. Monday. High wind hampered the search for them until dawn, Adam said. Then, as wardens searched the lake for Newell, they also found the tracks of the other party leading into the water. There they found helmets and gloves belonging to the men.

"I've been a game warden for 21 years. I can't think of another incident where four people went in to the same body of water in one night," Adam said.

Rangeley is a popular destination for snowmobilers, said Lee Libby, a snowmobile guide in the town of 1,325 residents. For Libby, the importance of snowmobiling for the local economy can be summed up in a single word.

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Additional Photos

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Lee Libby, a snowmobile guide in Rangeley, says Rangeley Lake is typically unsafe this time of year. “I won’t go on it until the first or second week of January,” he said.

David Leaming / Morning Sentinel

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A Maine Warden Service photo of Rangeley Lake, where the search for three missing snowmobilers was suspended Tuesday due to bad weather.

 


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