Three University of Maine students and a Maine game warden had to be rescued by helicopter from the Penobscot River in Old Town on Monday evening after the students’ boat became stranded and the game warden’s canoe tipped over on his way out to help the students.
The Old Town Fire Department received a call about the boaters from UMaine about 3:30 p.m. and found the three men stranded in a boat that had lodged itself between some rocks in the middle of the river near the ND Paper mill in Old Town, said Deputy Chief Chris Baker of the Old Town Fire Department.
The students had been out on the river conducting field work, UMaine spokeswoman Margaret Nagle said.
“A game warden dispatched himself out there to help them in a canoe,” Baker said. “The canoe tipped over and he became trapped.”
After the warden, who was wearing a dry suit, became trapped, it was up to the Old Town Fire Department to decide how to rescue the stranded boaters. Firefighters on the scene decided not to risk having anyone else get trapped in the river and called the Coast Guard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for a helicopter rescue, Baker said.
The four occupants spent about five hours on the boat, dry and safe, before the Coast Guard lifted the men into the helicopter from the middle of the river.
The Maine Forest Service and the Maine Army National Guard have helicopters but were unable to help on Monday, which is why the Old Town Fire Department contacted the Coast Guard for help, Baker said.
With the boaters on board, the helicopter pilot did not feel comfortable landing in a designated area the Old Town Fire Department had set up nearby at the Viola Rand Elementary School in Bradley, so he flew the four men to Bangor International Airport, where the Bangor Fire Department examined them, according to Baker.
Baker said the men from UMaine should not have been out on the river Monday.
“The river conditions are dangerous, and when you add in bad weather and dark, it gets very dangerous,” he said. “We didn’t feel safe launching our boat in the river. Air rescue was the only option to keep everyone safe.”