April 25, 2018
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Passenger jet slips off taxiway in Bangor as freezing rain pelts Maine; hundreds of accidents include two deaths in Hollis

By Bill Trotter, Dawn Gagnon and Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

A passenger jet slid off a taxiway at Bangor International Airport and sections of Interstate 95 were closed by extremely icy conditions Saturday that had emergency responders scrambling statewide.

A man and a woman were killed in a two-vehicle crash on slush-covered Route 117 in Hollis, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said.

The names of the deceased are being withheld as family members are being notified, he said. The road has been closed near the crash site since 2:30 p.m, when the accident was reported.

McCausland said in a news release Saturday evening that the accident happened when a van driven by a 17-year-old crossed the center line and traveled into the path of a pickup truck.

He said that Trooper Robin Parker said the teenager survived the crash but his two passengers did not. Parker said the crash took place on a straight stretch of the road and that weather was a factor.

The pickup driver, 29-year-old David Devore, and his passenger, 24-year-old Brittany Stacey, both of Limington, both suffered multiple injuries, but are expected to survive, McCausland said.

Devore is being treated at Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford and Stacey is being treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

The teenager driving the van also suffered multiple injuries and is expected to survive. He is being treated at Maine Medical Center.

McCausland said a team of six Maine State Police troopers went to the crash site to assist in the investigation.

No one was injured in the Bangor plane mishap. The Canadair regional jet had just landed and was on taxiway K at about 1 p.m. when the jet’s nose wheel lost its traction, said Airport Director Tony Caruso, who estimated that the plane was a 50-passenger jet.

An executive news producer with a CBS affiliate in Houston named Mike O’Neill said his sister, a jet passenger, told him that the icy conditions left the plane unable to finish a turn toward the main gate. The entire plane came to rest in the grass, she told him.

“She said that even the trucks coming out to try to get the plane had their wheels spinning on the asphalt,” O’Neill said. “She said they didn’t notice anything that was wrong but that someone else on the flight said ‘Oh, we’re going off.’ And then that was when they went off the asphalt.”

A flight crew towed the plane toward the main gate, Caruso said. An airport spokesman said the passengers deplaned at 1:43 p.m. O’Neill said his sister told him she was aboard until about 2:30 p.m.

The fatal crash and the jet’s mishap were among many incidents resulting from Saturday’s freezing rain. Streets and roads are so slippery that the Maine Department of Public Safety warned drivers that conditions everywhere are “extremely” dangerous. They urged motorists to delay travel until later in the day.

“Troopers inland say icy roads have made travel treacherous. Many plow trucks have been having difficulty getting sand and salt on the roads until temps warm up during the day,” officials warned in a news release.

Interstate 95 in Newburgh and Hermon, Route 1A in Dedham, streets in Rumford and Main Street in Brewer were among the roads closed earlier in the day. The National Weather Service ended its freezing rain advisory for portions of Aroostook County at 6 p.m., but reminded motorists of the dangerous traveling conditions at night due to ice still on the roads and some roads remaining untreated.

Plow trucks, ambulances and pickup trucks are among the heavy vehicles reportedly involved in accidents. In Falmouth, a glaze of ice triggered a speed restriction on the interstate, the Maine Department of Transportation said in an alert issued at about noon.

Dispatchers at regional communications centers and local police in several areas report being swamped by calls as the rain, which is expected to continue into Sunday, came pouring down.

Dispatchers at Hancock County Regional Communications Center in Ellsworth said they received roughly 100 calls over a 90-minute period Saturday morning from motorists reporting the icy conditions on Route 1A. Several cars had slid off the road, but no serious accidents had been reported, they said.

The highway was closed from approximately the Winkumpaugh Road intersection to the Holden town line, dispatchers said. Maine Department of Transportation had difficulty getting sand trucks to the scene because of the icy roads, they said.

Emergency vehicles were also subject to the difficult traveling conditions, with many reporting trouble on the roads throughout the day.

Also experiencing travel difficulties was a bus filled with Presque Isle High School’s varsity and junior varsity girls basketball teams, according to a Facebook post made around noon by one of the player’s mothers, who received text updates throughout the ordeal. The post said that the bus went off the road between Medway and Howland and kept sliding into the ditch while trying to get back onto the road.

“Traffic [was] backed up pretty far,” Andrew Sankey, director of Hancock County’s emergency management agency, said about the Route 1A closure.

There also were problems along Route 9 in northern Hancock County, officials said. A tractor-trailer jackknifed on the highway Saturday morning and, around midday, there were reports that Route 9 near the intersection of Route 181 in Amherst also had to be shut down temporarily.

Both Route 1A and Route 9 were reopened to traffic by late Saturday afternoon.

Bangor International Airport continued to accept flights into Saturday night and its crews were busy. Several flights out were grounded by weather, forcing the crews to find hotel accommodations for 324 military personnel, Caruso said. He advised fliers to check the airport’s website, Flybangor.com, or their carrier for up-to-date flight information.

In Aroostook County, no roads had been closed but vehicles were having trouble staying out of the shoulders and ditches, dispatchers said late Saturday.

“It’s everywhere,” Sgt. Shawn Van Tasel of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office said. “We’re urging people to stay off the roads if they can.”

The entire state is also under a flood watch, the National Weather Service said.

“Our biggest concern is for rivers which are iced over,” Forecaster Margaret Curtis said Friday. “We’re not looking at something like the ice storm, but driving on it isn’t very fun.”

Shortly after 3 p.m., the weather service’s Gray office reported that a warm front would spread precipitation northward Saturday evening, bringing with it heavy rain to be followed by a cold front.

As much as 2 inches of rainfall is expected, with locally higher amounts from north to south, forecasters said. The heaviest rain will occur in the afternoon and at night. Temperatures will rise into the 40s and will melt snow, which could cause flooding and ice jams.

The flood watch, effective through Sunday evening, covers parts of Franklin, Somerset, Oxford, York, Cumberland, Androscoggin, Kennebec, Waldo, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties.

Shortly before 4 p.m., the weather service’s Caribou office issued a high wind warning for parts of Penobscot, Washington and Hancock counties.

Wind gusts of up to 40 to 50 mph are expected Saturday evening, with the strongest gusts likely along the immediate coast and higher terrain. The winds are expected to cause trees and branches to snap, with scattered power outages expected. Trees still coated with ice are especially vulnerable.

Outages already were becoming a problem well before that, however.

By early evening, about 512 Emera Maine customers were without electricity. Spokeswoman Susan Faloon said the outages were the result of wind and rain.

Central Maine Power reported about 1,500 outages in the afternoon, but that number surged to more than 6,000 around 6:30 p.m., with more than half that number in York County. By 7:49 p.m. CMP had reduced the number of outages to 1,483, with most in Piscataquis and Somerset counties.

In southern Maine, the Maine Turnpike had a 4 a.m. pileup involving four tractor-trailers and a passenger car, the Maine Turnpike Authority reported on its Facebook page, which showed several photos of the crash that temporarily shut down southbound lanes at mile 55 in Falmouth.

State police said the accident began with a collision between the car and a tractor-trailer that had jackknifed. Three more tractor-trailers followed in a chain reaction — two of them rolling over, losing their cargo and causing major damage.

As a result of the crash, the southbound lanes south of Exit 63 temporarily were closed and traffic was diverted off of the Turnpike in the area of the crash. All five drivers involved in the crash were taken to Maine Medical Center for treatment.

Before the accident, road conditions had deteriorated rapidly with ice forming on the road surface.

Portland, because of its location on the coast, had relatively little drama, Sgt. John Nueslein said Saturday afternoon.

“It was icy — don’t get me wrong — but traffic was light and we had less than a dozen accidents,” he said.

Even the most nondescript roads are being affected by the ice. A pickup truck with slightly oversized wheels went off Center Pond Drive in Lincoln, a crested dirt road, into a drainage ditch, stranding its driver. The ice was so bad that he could barely walk away from the truck.

Conditions are expected to improve over the weekend with the storm ending Sunday, said meteorologist Dustin Jordan of the weather service’s Caribou office.

“We should have another area of rain this afternoon, but it also will continue to warm up, “ Jordan said. The latest weather reports are available here.

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