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RANGELEY — Jackie Henderson on Wednesday watched Maine wardens search Rangeley Lake for three missing snowmobilers, including her husband. The Sabattus woman knew the search wouldn’t end until spring if nothing was found this day.
Spring likely means May or June on the large, ice-covered lake.
Henderson’s husband, Glen Henderson, 43, has been missing since Dec. 30. Wardens believe he and two other snowmobilers — Kenneth Henderson, 40, of China and John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield — rode into open water.
The search has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, Maine Warden Cpl. John MacDonald said at a news conference Wednesday.
He said searchers on Monday found two snowmobiles using a remotely operated vehicle with a camera that scanned the bottom of the lake. He did not disclose the make or likely ownership of the machines.
Jackie Henderson and her brothers had seen the snowmobiles on a computer screen. She said she could not comment on whether she recognized them.
Searchers were concentrating this week on an area where helmets and gloves were found in January. Searches were stopped because the ice was unsafe.
“We’re taking our best shot today,” MacDonald said Wednesday. “Today is the day. If what we’re looking for is not found, it will be spring when we resume.”
In one of two plastic huts placed over the search site Wednesday, Warden Bruce Loring watched the remote vehicle on screen as he maneuvered it along the bottom of the lake. It reached a depth of 120 feet, but Loring saw only water, mud and rocks, he said.
The water had virtually no current, MacDonald said. He said the bodies likely have not moved to other parts of the lake.
The remote vehicle has an intense light but it only reaches about 5 feet. If it gets too close to the bottom, it stirs up silt. The Maine Wardens received the equipment this past November. It’s about the size of a suitcase. A 500-foot line stretches from the vehicle to Loring’s control. Reaching depths of 90 to 140 feet, it leaves about a 400-foot radius for the vehicle to move across the bottom.
An open-water search with sonar hauled by a boat would be the best scenario, MacDonald said. It would be more efficient, and it’s something they’ll wait to do in the spring, if necessary.
Divers stood by, prepared to go in if something was detected. They are trained, but it’s a dangerous task. The temperatures and depths are an issue, MacDonald said. The divers are trained to go under ice but are contending with a 2-foot ceiling of ice, he said.
MacDonald asked an experienced diver to rate on a scale of one to 10 how difficult this recovery would be.
“His answer was a 10; it’s not easy,” MacDonald said. The divers would go down only if there was something accessible, he said.
Even some of the equipment is vulnerable to cold temperatures, he added.
Staff Writer Donna Perry contributed to this story.