Warden service warns of thin ice

Posted Jan. 12, 2009, at 8:25 p.m.

INDIAN PURCHASE 4, Maine — A Massachusetts man’s near-death encounter near Millinocket last weekend has Maine Warden Service officials warning snowmobilers and other outdoor enthusiasts to beware of thin ice, especially in areas they know little about.

“There are certain locations in the state that never freeze. Locals usually know about these. Unfortunately, visitors do not,” Warden service Maj. Gregory Sanborn said Monday in a statement.

“Recreationalists not familiar with a particular body of water need to use extreme caution. Never follow a track just because it’s there,” Sanborn added. “Also, be aware of any moving water, such as inlets, outlets and culverts.”

Dennis Belmonte, 43, of Middleton, Mass., learned this the hard way. He and three friends were snowmobiling on South Twin Lake near North Twin Dam in IP4 at about 6 p.m. Saturday when they became disoriented while following directions they had been given, warden service officials said.

The ice gave way under them, with three reaching safety but Belmonte falling through. He saved himself by doing what one should do after falling through ice: He kicked his legs and grabbed safe ice to scramble from danger, officials said.

His rental sled remains in 30 feet of water at the bottom of South Twin Lake.

Wardens say the area where Belmonte went into the water is not far from where a Connecticut man died in early April 2008 while snowmobiling on thin ice near moving water on North Twin Lake.

Visitors might be especially vulnerable, but thin ice can surprise experienced Mainers too, according to the warden service. Appearances can deceive. Ice that appears solid could be atop moving water, especially near bridges, culverts, inlets and outlets and other areas where currents are prevalent.

Snow often masks telltale ice cracks and snowy conditions could cause disorientation. Temperature fluctuations or high winds might alter conditions dramatically, sometimes within hours.

“Areas of moving water never freeze to the point of being safe to cross or ride upon,” Sanborn said.

Animals are as prone to mischance as humans. A 9-year-old collie mix fell through ice more than 50 feet from shore on Lower Range Pond in Poland on Dec. 29. The dog’s owner attempted to rescue his pet with a kayak, but it too fell through the ice. Emergency responders in cold-water rescue suits saved the dog, which was treated at a local animal hospital.

A seven-point buck died in Cobbosseecontee Stream in Gardiner on Nov. 24 after possibly getting hit by a vehicle on nearby Interstate 295. Motorists called authorities to try to save the deer.

Visitors concerned about thin ice should contact local fire departments, police or game wardens for advice. Let caution prevail.

Snowmobiling, wardens officials said, is an overwhelmingly safe sport. More than 100,000 snowmobiles are registered in Maine, with about $300 million in tourist money generated annually.

ICE TRAVELERS, BEWARE

— Never guess thickness — check it with an auger. Punch test holes as you go farther out.

— Avoid traveling alone. If alone, wear a life jacket.

— Stay off cracked shoreline ice and thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice might indicate melting.

— Avoid areas near currents, structures or pressure ridges.

— Children skating should use public, indoor, monitored areas.

IF YOU FALL THROUGH

— Don’t panic. Reach for solid ice.

— Lay both arms on unbroken ice and kick hard to lift yourself up. Once on top of the ice, roll — don’t walk — to safety.

— To help an ice victim, call 911 first.

— Lie flat and reach out with a branch, plank or rope or form a human chain with others. Don’t stand. After securing the victim, slide backward to more solid ice.

Source: Maine Warden Service.

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