January 3, 2013

Snowmobilers lost when they plunged into Rangeley Lake, friend says

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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OPEN WATER: A huge area of open water on Rangeley Lake can be seen several hundred yards from the shore where up to four snowmobilers may have died after breaking through the ice last Sunday. Strong winds have produced conditions that keep the ice from freezing.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Maine snowmobile deaths

2011-2012: 5
2010-2011: 4
2009-2010: 3
2008-2009: 8
2007-2008: 12
2006-2007: 6
2005-2006: 7
2004-2005: 7
2003-2004: 7
2002-2003: 16*
*Most fatalities in one year since records were kept beginning in 1970.

Source: Maine Warden Service

"It's hard to believe everything took place in the same location," MacDonald said. He called it "kind of mind-boggling."

Recovery efforts were postponed Tuesday and Wednesday because of high wind and frigid temperatures, which can freeze sonar equipment and endanger divers and boat operators.

Dozens and sometimes hundreds of accidents and several deaths occur on Maine's 14,000 miles of snowmobile trails each winter. The record high of 16 fatalities occurred in the winter of 2002-03.

Many of the deaths take place on lakes, with snowmobiles plunging through thin ice or into open water. Snowmobilers often ride at 50 mph or faster on frozen lakes. Riders going that fast have little time to react if water suddenly appears.

Locals know that the middle of Rangeley Lake is usually the last place to freeze, said Clark Allen, a trail manager for the Rangeley Lakes Snowmobile Club.

Nobody should have been out on the lake Sunday night, he said, "but they were from out of town, so they probably didn't know."

Seeking closure

During an interview Wednesday, Morgan spoke stoically about the details of her friends' last trip, but her emotions peaked as she recalled times spent on and off the Oxford race track.

"They were just the best guys you'll ever meet," she said. "They'd give you great advice. They'd make you smile. They were just loved by everybody. This is just sad."

Glenn Henderson and Spencer were best friends. The Hendersons worked as crane operators, and Spencer was a truck driver who loved to make people laugh.

"He's this big guy, with arms the size of kegs, but he always wore fluorescent pink," said Morgan, who already is planning to paint her race car fluorescent pink in his honor.

Glenn Henderson and his wife have two grown children who live in the area, Morgan said. Ken Henderson is married, and Spencer has a 12-year-old daughter and a girlfriend. All of the men have numerous family members in the area who are coming to grips with officials' conclusion that the men are almost certainly dead.

Wardens said Wednesday that they planned to begin search and recovery efforts in the lake this morning. The temperature at Rangeley Lake was hovering around 0 degrees Wednesday, with steady wind at 25 mph, according to MacDonald.

When weather conditions improve, searchers plan to use sonar equipment to find the men. Morgan said it is important to their families that the remains are returned.

Without them, there are too many unanswered questions.

"Give us something so we have closure," Morgan said. "Just for these kids, who will be wondering if Dad will be walking through that door. Am I going to get that phone call?"

'We're all family'

Morgan, who is setting up a savings account to take collections for Spencer's daughter, spent part of the weekend with six other Oxford Plains racers plowing the parking lot at the raceway in advance of a vigil scheduled for Wednesday night.

They planned to pray for the men and remember and pass around helmets to collect money that will be split evenly among the men's families. Morgan was expecting more than 1,000 people.

"In the racing community, it doesn't matter if you're blood. We're all family," Morgan said.

Morgan has six children of her own. Her motivation to help grows when she thinks about them and what they would go through if Morgan were lost somewhere under the ice.

She said she knows the Hendersons and Spencer would do whatever they could to help.

Morgan said she can't imagine what the men's families are going through. "That's why I'm doing this," she said. "I can't get in the water, but I can get everyone together."

Associated Press writer Clarke Canfield contributed to this report.

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

DEADLY ACCIDENT: People seen hugging and holding each other approach Maine Warden Service personnel wearing survival suits at the boat launch on Rangeley Lake on Monday. The body of Dawn Newell was recovered earlier in the day after her snowmobile went through the ice Sunday night.

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Photo taken Monday morning of Rangeley Lake.

Photo courtesy of Maine Warden Service

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Staff photo by David Leaming RECOVERY: Maine Warden Service Lt. Kevin Adam, right, on Tuesday, January 1, 2013, speaks about the ongoing recovery of three more snowmobilers who went through the ice on Rangeley Lake in Rangeley last Sunday. Searchers recovered the body of Dawn Newell who also crashed through the ice. At left is MWS spokesman John MacDonald.

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Maine Warden Service personnel return to shore in an airboat on Rangeley Lake on Monday after motoring over ice. Wardens said Dawn Newell's body was recovered Monday after the snowmobile she was riding broke through the ice Sunday night.

click image to enlarge

Photo taken Monday morning of Rangeley Lake.

Photo courtesy of Maine Warden Service


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