2 people die after sleds break thin ice

Posted March 23, 2009, at 10:04 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:01 a.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — The bodies of a Pennsylvania couple whose snowmobiles broke through thin ice in the East Outlet of Moosehead Lake were recovered Monday by the Maine Warden Service.

Clifford Achenbach, 41, and his wife Denise Achenbach, 42, of Pen Argyl, Pa., are believed to have drowned last Thursday, either during the day or sometime in the evening, according to Lt. Pat Dorian of the warden service. Their deaths represent the state’s seventh and eighth fatalities this snowmobiling season, the second and third to have occurred in the Moosehead Lake region.

After the couple was reported missing by relatives at 7:30 a.m. Monday, a ground and air search was launched. The Achenbachs, who had arrived on March 16 at Moose Mountain Inn, formerly known as the Greenwood Motel, in Moosehead Junction Township, were supposed to have returned to Pennsylvania on Saturday, Dorian said Monday. Authorities checked the couple’s cell phone and credit card records and determined the Achenbachs had not used either since last Thursday.

Two fixed-wing airplanes owned by the warden service and a Maine Forest Service helicopter operated by Shawn Rogers and Lincoln Mazzeis searched from the air for the couple, he said. Fifteen wardens also searched from the ground and the air.

Dorian said the bodies of the couple were observed from the air shortly after noon floating under thin ice above the dam in an area notorious for its dangerous conditions.

“Historically, all the issues we’ve had with that place has been in the nighttime, people are coming back down the lake and see the lights on the dam and at Wilson’s, they override the lights and get onto the bad ice,” Dorian said of the East Outlet.

Part of the problem is that when the lake level is drawn down this time of year it thins out the ice. The warmer weather in the spring also contributes to bad ice around the dam and a significant distance from the dam, he explained.

“We’ve had problems both at East Outlet and Moose River and it’s one of those areas that unfortunately draws people who are not familiar with the region,” Dorian said. “We’ve had a bunch [over the years]; some have survived and some have not,” he said.

Dorian said the Achenbachs, who have no children, apparently had done a tremendous amount of research on the snowmobile trails in the state from Carrabassett Valley to Patten based on material they left behind in their motel room. From their notes, the couple had been to Northeast Carry and Pittston Farm. They had been riding quite a bit to the south and planned to ride off-trail, according to Dorian.

“What did that mean to us, other than holy o’ lightning,” Dorian said, referring to the wide area in which the couple could be missing.

“They were very well-prepared people, I don’t know when the mistake was made,” Dorian said. He said the warm days the state had on Friday and Saturday had obliterated their tracks on the lake.

Wardens estimated the bodies were in 12 feet of water since a snowmobile could be seen on the bottom. An airboat and a backup motorboat were used to reach the bodies and remove them from the lake at about 3:30 p.m.

Two brothers of the male victim traveled to Greenville on Monday to identify the bodies, which were taken to Crosby Funeral Home in Greenville. The state medical examiner is expected to examine the bodies today.

dianabdn@myfairpoint.net

876-4579

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