BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Warden Service on Thursday night suspended its search for Richard “Shaw” Jackson, 18, of China. The teenager became the focus of an extensive search after he went missing the night of Jan. 1 while returning home from a snowmobile repair shop.
Col. Joel Wilkinson, chief game warden, said the decision to suspend the search was discussed with Jackson’s family before it was called off. He said the case will remain open, and an investigator will be assigned to it. A warden service pilot periodically will fly over China Lake and the area to look for any sign of Jackson.
Wilkinson and Lt. Kevin Adam, search-and-rescue coordinator, said the search was suspended because cold weather conditions on the lake were putting searchers at risk. The depth of the water, limitations of equipment in cold conditions and the large search area also were factors.
“In these conditions, it’s not feasible to do a water search,” Wilkinson said. “I’m not putting searchers at risk. Once the ice breaks, we’ll [decide] whether to send in the dive team to search the area.”
Jackson, a junior at Erskine Academy, last was seen between 8 and 9 p.m. Friday, when he left Pinkham Corner Fuel in China and headed home on his black Yamaha snowmobile. The warden service was notified at 6 a.m. Saturday, that Jackson was missing and a massive search began during what later that day became blizzard conditions that dropped 18 inches of snow in the area.
It was not clear which route Jackson may have taken to get home.
On Monday night, a warden service pilot spotted a set of snowmobile tracks leading into open water on the lake’s West Cove. The roughly 300-acre area became a focal point for the search. There was no indication, however, that the tracks were from Jackson’s sled.
During the search, the warden service was assisted by members of 13 snowmobile clubs who traveled their clubs’ trails and searched camps, the South China Fire Department, the state police and its investigations division, Maine Marine Patrol, the Brewer Fire Department and volunteers. In addition, New Hampshire Fish and Game sent a team that used a roving operating vehicle under the water.
A hovercraft, several airboats, airplanes, a helicopter, snowmobiles and side-scan sonar equipment were used throughout the week.
“Mr. Jackson’s family was very appreciative of our efforts,” Wilkinson said. “I would like to thank all of the people who gave of their time to try to find Mr. Jackson and bring him home to his family.”
Also Thursday, the warden service warned snowmobilers to stay off China Lake because of the expanses of open water in many parts of the lake and thin ice in others. Equipment used on the lake during the search contributed to the ice thinning but the lake “is opening up on its own,” Adam said.
“No snowmobiling is permitted,” he said. “Snowmobilers need to wait until there is an extensive cold spell to lock in the ice. It’s just not safe.”