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Poor ice conditions sideline recovery efforts for 3 missing snowmobilers in Rangeley

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Open water steams at sunrise on Rangeley Lake just before members of the Maine Warden Service resume their search for three missing snowmobilers Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013.
By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

RANGELEY, Maine — The Maine Warden Service continues to monitor ice conditions on Rangeley Lake before resuming recovery efforts for three missing snowmobilers.

Frigid weather and high winds in the Rangeley area have hampered search efforts since Tuesday, when the wardens found evidence that the three snowmobiles had broken through thin ice.

Kenneth Henderson, 40, of China; Glenn Henderson, 43, of Sabattus; and John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield were last seen leaving for a ride at about 6 p.m. on Dec. 30 in Carrabassett Valley.

“We are monitoring the ice every day, because of the moderating temperatures this week,” Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service said in an email. “If a hole forms again near where we want to run sonar, and the hole becomes large enough, we will look at ramping up those sonar operations again.”

The ice is not safe enough to be on right now, said Doug Rafferty, director of public information and education for the Maine Warden Service.

“The ice is where you can’t go on it and you can’t get through it,” said Rafferty. “It makes it tough to deal with. It won’t support any weight, but you can’t drop anything through it. We’re kind of in a holding pattern.”

If the temperature rises or if it rains, a hole in the ice can open up quickly, he said.

The warden service is also making plans if the temperatures stay cold.

“If the hole does not open up again, we are working on other plans that involve the dive team and other pieces of equipment,” said MacDonald. “We would need safe ice thickness to perform those operations.”

Searchers think the men perished in the lake based on finding two of the men’s helmets in an area where a fourth snowmobiler, Dawn Newell, 45, of Yarmouth went through the ice on Dec 30. Her body was found the next morning.

The use of side-scan sonar imagery on Thursday uncovered evidence of two snowmobiles at the bottom of the lake, and possibly a third, but MacDonald said low temperatures interfered with the equipment. Another concern is the safety of divers, especially if they’re operating out of watercraft as opposed to a hole through the ice.

“If it’s thin ice, you really can’t bring everything you need out onto the lake,” said MacDonald. “The safety of our divers is the top priority.”

Exposed water on Rangeley Lake has frozen over during the past week, but authorities said the ice there and most other waterways in Maine remains dangerously thin.

BDN writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.

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