ROCKWOOD, Maine — Four men were rescued from Moosehead Lake on Tuesday morning after the pontoon boat they were traveling in capsized.
Frederick McAffee, 59, of Dover-Foxcroft and Nathaniel Bates, 27, Carl Butler, 32, Stuart J. Orff, 50, all of Abbot, were headed to Pine Island to work on a camp when a pontoon started filling up with water, causing the 1987 24-foot Godfrey boat to flip over, according to Sgt. Bill Chandler of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“They were very cold,” Chandler said Tuesday. “Conditions were very rough. We got a hard south wind going and pretty good-sized swells — I mean, at times there were 4- or 5-foot swells.”
Chandler said Rockwood firefighters and Charles A. Dean Memorial Hospital ambulance personnel were standing by at the Rockwood landing, where the men were warmed before they returned to their homes.
Contacted at his home later in the day, Orff said he believed his pontoon had been torn.
“We saw it [the water] coming into the pontoon real quick, so we just sort of walked over the pontoon as the boat flipped,” he recalled. “We just stayed right up on top of the pontoons, so basically it was only our legs in water.”
One of the men fell into the water and was wetter than the others, Orff said. He said his golden retriever also was on the boat and was rescued. Orff figured he and the three other men had been on the capsized boat for about an hour before they were rescued at about 10:30 a.m.
Chandler was told that when the men realized they were in trouble, one of them called 911 on his cell phone. That call, made at about 9:40 a.m., was received by Maine State Police, who notified the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department. All 911 cell phone calls made in Piscataquis County are routed to the state police. The Sheriff’s Department, in turn, reported the incident to the warden service.
For quicker aid, Chandler said he requested Moosehead Marina owner Mark Gilbert to respond to the accident report since the business is located in the immediate area. Gilbert and his employee Josh Gile were first to arrive on the scene, just before the arrival of Chandler and Warden Troy Dauphinee in the Moosehead Lake rescue boat.
Shelly Humphrey, the Orono state police barracks dispatcher who took the 911 call from Bates, said she stayed on the line with him but had to put him on hold at times because of a search for a man believed involved in a Newport homicide. She recalled she would break in once in a while to make sure Bates was still on the line.
“I told him the boat had left the marina about five minutes previous and I asked him if he could see the boat,” Humphrey said. “He could, and about the time he could see it, he could see it going away from him.”
Humphrey said she called the Sheriff’s Department and got a cell number for Gilbert, whom she called. “I had him on one ear and I had Nathaniel on the other ear, and Nathaniel is going, ‘Tell him to go right, tell him to go straight, tell him to do this.’”
She said Gilbert had been unable to see the capsized boat from a distance. She, too, figured the men had been in the water for about an hour before their rescue.
Orff said the boat, which he launched from the Kineo dock, was down the lake but had been about 30 feet from shore when it capsized. The waves helped push the boat toward the shore, where they remained until help came, he said.
“At one time I could have jumped into the water and probably swam to shore within 30 feet, but we figured it would be safer to stay on the boat,” Orff said. He said there were plenty of life jackets on the boat but all but one were underwater.
Humphrey recalled that Bates mentioned swimming to shore, and she told him that wouldn’t be advisable because they had only one life jacket.
Chandler said people should make sure their boats are in good shape before they launch and they should know where they are going and the condition of the lake. Since the lake level is lower than normal because of the fall drawdown, there are all kinds of ledge shelves and rocks showing everywhere all over the lake, he said.
Orff said he planned to recover his boat today.