RANGELEY — After three days of looking for three missing snowmobilers who are believed to have died in Rangeley Lake, officials said Wednesday that they will suspend the search until the ice melts in the spring.

The Maine Warden Service discovered two snowmobiles on Tuesday but found nothing else in its most recent search, said Cpl. John MacDonald at a news conference.

MacDonald said wardens searched parts of the lake that are 90 to 140 feet deep. They used an underwater vehicle known as an Outland 1000, a tethered unit controlled from the surface with 500 feet of cable.

Warden Bruce Loring said this is the first time the vehicle has been used in open water. The warden service used a grant to buy the $57,000 robot in November.

Loring said the vehicle does not use a GPS to track systematically where it has searched. He said the wardens are using compass directions to tell roughly what area has been searched.

He said the vehicle weighs about 30 pounds and can hover about 5 feet above the lake floor.

Loring was monitoring a video feed of what the vehicle saw underwater. “It’s like flying through an asteroid field,” he said.

The divers did not search the lake Wednesday, but if they had, MacDonald said, it would have been the most dangerous kind of dive.

The depth, the cold and the 2-foot-thick ice would have made such a dive dangerous and complicated, he said. Warden Mike Joy said, for safety reasons, divers were on standby while the wardens first searched the area with a remotely controlled vehicle.

He said divers are tied to a 100-foot tether, so if they were to dive to investigate something at a depth of 95 feet, the tether would limit the diver to a small search area.

The lost snowmobilers, Ken Henderson, 40, of China, his cousin Glenn Henderson, 43, of Sabattus and their friend John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield were reported missing early Dec. 31.

Previously published information from the warden service indicating that the search would resume Wednesday was incorrect.

The search initially was postponed in early January because of frigid temperatures and high wind on an open section of the lake. The search plans changed when the lake froze, but the search was delayed again because the ice was too thin to hold the people and equipment needed to use the remotely operated underwater vehicle.

Searchers initially found helmets and gloves while searching for Dawn Newell, 45, of Yarmouth, who went into the lake the night of Dec. 30 while snowmobiling with her son. She rode her snowmobile into open water hours before the others were reported missing. Her body was recovered Dec. 31.

Wardens said Newell and her son, 16, drove into open water. The boy jumped from his snowmobile onto solid ice before his machine sank.

Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

kschroeder@mainetoday.com