BOWERBANK, Maine — The body of Robert Pomeroy, who drowned over the weekend in First Buttermilk Pond, was recovered Monday morning. Pomeroy and three other Dover-Foxcroft men were thrown into the chilly lake’s waters when the boat they were traveling in capsized Saturday afternoon.
Warden diver Irene Yaws, who on Saturday found the body of James “Jim” Brown, English Department head at Foxcroft Academy, also found the body of Pomeroy, owner of Rowell’s Garage. Pomeroy’s body was recovered at 10:50 a.m. within 50 feet of shore in about 6 feet of water, according to Warden Lt. Pat Dorian of the Maine Warden Service.
Two other men, Kevin Stitham, a district court judge, and David Perkins, a local businessman, man-aged to survive the ordeal and made attempts to find Brown and Pomeroy without success. Both Stitham and Perkins broke down many times at the scene as wardens conducted the search for their lifelong friends, Dorian said.
Pomeroy’s death is the eighth drowning in the state this year, according to Al Johnson, First Coast Guard District Recreational Boating Specialist in Boston.
Coincidentally, last year at this time, four men in Mt. Chase Township were tossed into the water after their boat capsized and the same warden service di-vers were called out to search for a drowning victim in that incident, Dorian said. Those men also had been staying in a camp at a remote pond and one of the men was a judge, very similar to this incident, he said.
As in that earlier case, it was difficult for wardens to get equipment to the First Buttermilk Pond scene, Dorian said. “We had to cut a trail down to the pond to get a boat to it. We didn’t have adequate watercraft on the lake to do what we needed to do safely,” he said. Two boats and equipment were carried in by wardens and by Bowerbank firefighters, many of whom knew the four men.
“Emotionally, it’s been very difficult for everybody involved in it, especially those who were close to these gentlemen,” Dorian said.
As a matter of practice, blood tests were conducted on the deceased, and the results will not be available until later this month, he said.
Dorian said Monday that the foursome had been staying at Stitham’s camp on the pond while they were hunting in the area. After two men in the party re-turned from hunting Saturday afternoon, the group took off in Stitham’s 12-foot V-hull Duratech boat to visit friends across the lake. Midway across the south side of the pond, Stitham, who was in the bow, noticed water around his ankles and advised Pomeroy, who was steering the motor, to head for shore, Dorian said.
“Unfortunately the boat was not adequate for four adult males, weightwise, and they were not wearing life jackets,” Dorian said. “Within a very short time they were all in the water.”
Once the men were in the water, Stitham, Pomeroy, and Brown grabbed life jackets and decided to swim to shore. Perkins elected to stay behind with the capsized boat, Dorian said.
Somehow, Stitham managed to draw from his strength, despite suffering from hypothermia. Stitham “purposely” swam to a part of the shore where he knew there would be a boat, crawled onto the shore and shoved a rowboat into the water, according to Dorian. After Stitham rowed out to rescue Perkins, the pair shouted for Brown and Pomeroy.
After seeing no sign of them on the calm pond and fighting off the cold (the water temperature was 46 degrees), the two men rowed to Stitham’s camp where they changed into warm and dry clothing, Dorian said. They then returned in the rowboat to search again for their friends. When Pomeroy and Brown did not re-spond to their shouts, Stitham and Perkins rowed back to Stitham’s camp, jumped into a vehicle and headed to an area where they could get cellular tele-phone coverage to call 911, according to the warden. That call was made at about 8:20 p.m.
Yaws had been in a boat looking down into the wa-ter when she spotted Pomeroy’s body Monday morn-ing, Dorian said. Because Pomeroy had been wearing dark clothing, his body was not visible from the air, he said.
Seventeen members of the warden service, includ-ing the divers, assisted during the search. Although the warden service is faced with budget cuts, Dorian said it is hard to place a value on these specialty teams in a case like this.
“Due to the complexities of this recovery mission, particularly the remoteness of the location, the Maine Warden Service Aviation Division has proven critical in providing the necessary support and safety to all of our wardens and divers who are searching in tough conditions to return these loved ones to their fami-lies,” Col. Joel Wilkinson, chief of the Maine Warden Service, said in a prepared press release.
“By shuttling gear and personnel, the aviation divi-sion provides a timely way out for any of our divers that may encounter a medical issue and need immedi-ate care,” Wilkinson noted. “We are fortunate to have highly trained professionals that are committed and dedicated to this mission and every mission in which we are called upon to serve.”
For the Coast Guard’s Johnson, cases like this wouldn’t happen if people were to assess the risks and act appropriately. “Anyone contemplating going out into a boat at this time of year should assess the risks, realistically look at what could happen, what could go wrong and be prepared for it. The best thing you could do is wear a life jacket.”
“A person has a 50 percent chance of swimming 50 yards in 50 degree water [when wearing a life jacket],” according to Johnson. “The shock of sudden immer-sion is debilitating, you know, it saps your strength immediately, plus you’re gasping, hyperventilating and on top of it you’re panicking; it really is essential at that time to be wearing a life jacket. They would have adjusted to the water temperature within one to three minutes and then have a period of about two to 10 minutes of useful function … they would have been floating so they would have survived,” Johnson said.
A memorial service for Brown is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, at Foxcroft Academy. No date has yet been set for Pomeroy’s service.