RANGELEY — Searchers returned empty-handed Thursday after resuming their search for three snowmobilers missing in Rangeley Lake since winter.

Throughout the day, Rangeley residents gathered in small groups at the bars and restaurants, along the lake and on the sidewalks, asking each other whether any of the bodies had been found.

Cheryl Burkee, a server at Parkside & Main restaurant, said the residents want the family of the missing men to get a sense of finality after their ordeal, which has so far lasted just over four months. “We feel for the families and that they haven’t had closure,” she said.

The search by the Maine Warden Service began Tuesday with the use of sonar in the area where the snowmobilers are thought to have fallen into open water on the partially frozen lake in late December.

Thursday’s efforts were called off after the warden’s search equipment was having technical problems, but they hope the fix the glitches and resume tomorrow, said Lt. Kevin Adam of the warden service.

Divers, who were deployed Thursday for the first time this week, were trying to use a remote-controlled vehicle operated by the wardens on the lake surface, because they wanted to investigate items that are too deep for divers to investigate safely firsthand..

The eight dive team members first used sonar from a boat to search the water, according to Adam. If divers found an item of interest using sonar and were unable to tell what it was from different angles, they marked a spot with a buoy for divers.

The item the divers investigated Thursday was a rock, Adam said. The other items were too deep for the divers. Divers can go as deep as 100 feet, he said, and the search area in the lake is 70 to 130 feet deep.

Adam said the wardens and Maine State Police are searching using sonar and cadaver dogs, which can pick up the scent of a body while riding a boat.

Adam said finding the snowmobiles of Ken Henderson, 40, of China; his cousin Glenn Henderson, 43, of Sabattus; and friend John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield, in late February helped narrow the search field from the 1 1/2 -mile open area of open water they are believed to have fallen through.

Wardens don’t think the lake current would move the bodies and are searching the area using a process of elimination, Adam said.

The search was suspended in late February and was set to resume when the lake’s ice melted, according the warden service at the time.

The three men were reported missing early Dec. 31. At the time, a search already was underway for Dawn Newell, 45, of Yarmouth, who went into the lake the night of Dec. 30 while snowmobiling with her son.

Wardens said Newell and her son, 16, drove into open water. The boy managed to jump from his snowmobile onto solid ice before his machine sank. He called 911 for help.

The accident was part of what probably was the worst snowmobile tragedy in state history. State officials said they can’t recall another instance of four snowmobile riders being killed in the same place at roughly the same time.

“It’s hard to believe everything took place in the same location,” Cpl. John MacDonald, spokesman for the Maine Warden Service, said at the time. He called it “kind of mind-boggling.”

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
kschroeder@mainetoday.com