MILLINOCKET, Maine — Excellent use of survival tactics probably saved two Millinocket residents from serious injury after a canoeing accident dumped them in Millinocket Stream on Tuesday, Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte said Wednesday.
The canoeists, whom Turcotte identified as 36-year-old Jason Hartley and 31-year-old Jennifer McIntyre, were treated for hypothermia after firefighters, police and Maine Game Warden Andy Glidden found them. Hartley reported the accident at about 2 p.m., Turcotte said.
When rescuers found them near Shad Pond and its connection to the west branch of the Penobscot River, Hartley and McIntyre had already made it out of the stream and sought shelter behind some trees and a large tree stump, removed some of their wet clothing, started a fire to warm themselves, and hung orange hunting vests along the shoreline to alert searchers to their location, Turcotte said.
“They did a great job. They stayed calm, which probably helped save their lives, and they were prepared,” Turcotte said Wednesday.
Hartley told firefighters that he was a trapper out checking traps. Turcotte wasn’t precisely sure what caused the accident, but said he believes that McIntyre’s oar might have gotten caught on a rock, throwing the canoe off-balance enough to capsize.
Turcotte wasn’t sure whether they had personal flotation devices, but the accident apparently occurred close enough to shore so that Hartley and McIntyre weren’t in the water for too long, he said.
Rescuers found them after getting Great Northern Paper Co. workers to open a gate to property near the stream that led to what’s called the Coal Ash Road, Turcotte said.
With a slight snowfall, some wind, and temperatures dropping into the 30s, and likely far colder on the surface of the water, Tuesday was a lousy day to have an accident, Turcotte said.
“It was cold out,” Turcotte said. “They were shivering.”
The Maine Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 750 deaths occur due to hypothermia every year in the U.S. About 20 Mainers die annually due to it, including three or four who die in their homes.
Hypothermia is defined as a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature passes below 95 F (35 C), according to the website for the Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.com. It can take minutes to start affecting people immersed in water.
Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of heart and respiratory systems. Anyone traveling on water should be sure to carry flotation devices, wear wet suits and take all other precautions to guarantee safety, Turcotte said.