May 14, 2013

Rangeley Lake search comes up empty Tuesday, as lost snowmobiler's father waits

'For parents and loved ones, it is hard to just sit here and wait. Words can't even begin to describe it,' says John Spencer Sr.

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

RANGELEY — John Spencer Sr. sat in his pickup truck Tuesday and looked out at the choppy waters of Rangeley Lake.

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John Spencer Sr., father of missing snowmobiler John Spencer Jr., speaks about the loss of his son and the ongoing effort to retrieve his body from Rangeley Lake on Tuesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Roger Palmer speaks Tuesday outside the Loony Bin Variety store in Rangeley, about the impact that the deaths of three snowmobilers in December have had on the town.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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It has been more than four months since his son John Spencer Jr. disappeared into the lake's freezing water while riding his snowmobile with his cousin and their friend.

"For parents and loved ones, it is hard to just sit here and wait. Words can't even begin to describe it," he said.

While Spencer waited, the Maine Warden Service searched for the bodies of Spencer Jr., 41, of Litchfield, and Ken Henderson, 40, of China, who along with Glenn Henderson, 43, of Sabbattus, were reported missing Dec. 31. Henderson's body was found last Friday after wardens resumed the search, which had been suspended in midwinter because of the weather.

Searchers did not go out Saturday, Sunday or Monday because of bad weather, said Lt. Tim Place of the warden service.

On Tuesday, the sun was shining but the wind was blowing steadily, gaining speed as the day wore on. Wardens arrived around 7 a.m. and searched using sonar technology until choppy water caused by wind forced them to stop about 2:30 p.m., said Sgt. Scott Thrasher of the warden service.

Mike Joy, dive team leader, said the bodies could be anywhere within the lake's 10 square miles. The lake depth at its deepest point is 149 feet.

The snowmobilers disappeared into a section of open water on the partially frozen lake, Joy said, and the bodies could have floated a considerable distance from the snowmobiles. The snowmobiles were found in late February; the site where they were located was the starting point when the search resumed last week.

"We've found some stuff, but there is definitely more area to cover," Joy said.

Meanwhile, family members of the missing men and people in the town say they are waiting for a sense of closure.

"It's been very traumatizing for the whole town. Since winter, we've all been wondering when the warden service would come back," said Cindy Smith, 58, of nearby Dallas Plantation. Her home overlooks the lake. About two weeks ago, Smith said, she organized a walk around the shores of the lake to look for things belonging to the snowmobilers.

Only a handful of people showed up, she said.

"We looked around the park for anything, like a glove or anything else, that would give us a clue they were there," she said.

Smith, who has young children and nephews, said she didn't want them to find evidence of the accident and not know what to do with it. The walk was also a way to feel involved in the search for the missing men, she said.

"It made me feel better, knowing there was something I could do to help," she said.

John Spencer Sr., who lives in Wales, said people in Rangeley have been kind and have helped his family find places to stay.

Spencer, a truck driver, said he has been able to get time off from work to come to Rangeley and that he plans to be at the lake most of the week.

Friday was a day of mixed emotions for him and other family members, he said. "It was a happy day and a sad day. Somebody had to be found first and somebody has to be found last," he said.

Mark Clifford, owner of Lakehouse Rentals, said people in town have been talking about the search. On Tuesday, he could see three boats from the warden service searching the water near a lake house property that he and his wife manage for a woman who lives in France.

"It's taken a toll on people here. Some people knew the snowmobilers and some didn't. It's just hard. In a small community it hits everyone," Clifford said.

Clifford, who also volunteers for the Rangeley Fire Department, said he wasn't working Dec. 31, but he remembers hearing the report of the accident on a scanner at his house.

"People feel bad. I don't think anyone in town will feel closure until the bodies are found," said Clifford's wife, Louise Clifford.

The search for the missing snowmobilers was postponed initially in early January because of frigid weather and high wind on the open section of the lake. The search tactics changed when the lake froze, but the search was delayed again because the ice was too thin to hold the people and equipment needed.

In February, the warden service located the three men's snowmobiles and planned to search for the bodies after the lake ice melted.

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 managed to jump from his snowmobile onto solid ice before his machine sank.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368


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Additional Photos

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Cindy Smith organized a walk on the shores of Rangeley Lake last week to find any artifacts related to three missing snowmobilers, presumed drowned in the lake in December. "I did this to help prevent any trauma from someone finding evidence of the men," Smith said on Tuesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Maine Warden Service dive team leader Mike Joy, left, and Sgt. Scott Thrasher talk about the search for two snowmobilers's bodies in Rangeley Lake on Tuesday. Joy said the team's sonar search was hampered by choppy water conditions.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Maine Warden Service boats and personnel drag sonar equipment from the center boat on Tuesday, while doing a grid search of the bottom of Rangeley Lake for the bodies of two snowmobile operators, who went through the ice last Decermber.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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