Snowmobiler survives 20 cold hours trapped under his sled

Phil Corriveau (left) of Fort Kent and Warden Adrian Marquis tend to Paul Lessard on Wednesday morning in St. John Plantation after the 64-year-old snowmobiler was found trapped under his overturned sled in a ditch just off the trail.
Photo courtesy of the Maine Warden Service
Phil Corriveau (left) of Fort Kent and Warden Adrian Marquis tend to Paul Lessard on Wednesday morning in St. John Plantation after the 64-year-old snowmobiler was found trapped under his overturned sled in a ditch just off the trail.
Posted April 03, 2013, at 6:26 p.m.
Last modified April 03, 2013, at 7:06 p.m.

SAINT JOHN PLANTATION, Maine — A Massachusetts man was taken to a Bangor hospital Wednesday after spending more than 20 hours pinned in running water under his snowmobile.

Paul Lessard, 64, of Milford, Mass., was reported missing around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday by his friend Nelson Gagnon of Wallagrass, who said Lessard was overdue from a snowmobile ride, according to information released by John MacDonald, spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Lessard, known locally as “Moses,” reportedly had left a Fort Kent rental camp earlier Tuesday and planned to meet Gagnon for supper.

Warden Gary Sibley and acting Sgt. Jeff Spencer first began checking local businesses and restaurants frequented by Lessard and learned he had visited Corriveau Arctic Cat Plus at 10 a.m. and told several people that he planned to ride into the Deboullie Township area west of Fort Kent.

Wardens immediately began a snowmobile ground search, checking routes of travel, area campsites and ponds in the Deboullie area, covering close to 110 miles in wind-chill temperatures near zero, according to MacDonald.

The search was further hampered by heavy snow squalls which reduced visibility and diminished any tracks Lessard may have made.

The search was called off at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday and plans were made to resume later that morning with additional wardens, volunteers and a search plane, MacDonald said.

En route to join the search at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, Phil Corriveau, owner of the local Arctic Cat dealership, and his son Tyler Corriveau came across Lessard trapped beneath his snowmobile, which had overturned in a watery ditch adjacent to the trail.

“We were going toward Carter Brook and we saw a track that went in [toward Black Lake in Saint John Plantation] but that did not come back out,” Phil Corriveau said Wednesday afternoon. “I was pretty sure it was an Arctic Cat track, so I told my son, ‘Let’s go see.’”

The two men got to the Black Lake clubhouse without seeing any further sign of Lessard, but 200 feet later, they spotted his sled overturned in a ditch.

“We could not see [Lessard] at all,” Corriveau said. “The sled was on top of him.”

When they approached the snowmobile, they saw Lessard.

“He moved his arm and said, ‘You found me,’” Corriveau said. “We told him to hang on.”

Tyler Corriveau called wardens on his cellphone and the two men attempted to move the sled to free Lessard, whose head was trapped under the machine’s back storage rack, but the sled was too heavy.

Using a small shovel, they eventually were able to move enough snow and move the sled just enough to free Lessard’s head, Corriveau said.

“It’s just plain luck we found him there,” Corriveau said. “It was only 8 degrees this morning.”

Neither the Corriveaus nor the wardens could determine how Lessard ended up trapped in that position, Corriveau said, adding Lessard never indicated how the accident occurred.

Lessard, who MacDonald said was conscious but showing signs of hypothermia when found, indicated he had been trapped since noon the previous day.

Lessard was taken from the scene by rescue toboggan and ambulance to Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent and subsequently transferred by ambulance to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor in stable condition, according to Joan Fortin, NMMC spokesperson.

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