January 1, 2013

Recovery effort for 3 sledders suspended

When the wind subsides, searchers plan to use sonar to locate the men who drove into open water Sunday.

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Maine Warden Service Lt. Kevin Adam, right, comments Tuesday about the ongoing efforts to recover the bodies of three snowmobilers who went through the ice Sunday on Rangeley Lake in Rangeley. The body of a fourth victim was recovered earlier. “I’ve been a game warden for 21 years. I can’t think of another incident where four people went in to the same body of water in one night,” Adam said.

David Leaming / Morning Sentinel

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Rangeley resident Tim Lyons stands beside Rangeley Lake Tuesday near an expanding section of open water. Five years ago, Lyons' sled broke through the ice on Rangeley Lake, but he quickly scrambled out of the water. He was lucky, but it was a painful experience, he said.

David Leaming / Morning Sentinel

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"Key," he said. "Without it, we starve."

Libby sat on a stool Tuesday morning in the BMC Diner on Richardson Avenue, where several other customers were talking about the tragedy. Libby said it's typical for Rangeley Lake to be unsafe at this time of year, and locals are well aware of its dangers.

"I won't go on it until the first or second week of January," he said. "They shouldn't have been out there."

Every year in late January, Rangeley hosts Snodeo -- a three-day festival for snowmobilers. If the ice is unstable then, the Rangeley Snowmobile Club posts signs at access points along the lake to warn snowmobilers away, said Libby, 45. Currently, there are no such signs.

"Most people know it isn't safe right now," he said. "When you pull into town, you can see that big open hole."

At a nearby booth, Alex Allan, 33, said the town needs a better system for informing tourists about the lake ice.

"The hotels, the rental shops, et cetera need to have a better system. They need to collaborate to let people know that the lakes aren't safe," he said.

Farther east, at Lyons Lakeview Cabins, co-owner Pauline Lyons said she tells early-season customers that the ice is unsafe when they book rental cabins. She tells them they'll have to trailer their snowmobiles from the waterfront property to the trails, because they are forbidden to use the ice until later this month.

Her husband, Tim Lyons, said the tragedy has been weighing on his mind. He has been praying for the wind to die down so the search for the missing men can continue. Lyons, 52, has been snowmobiling since he was a child. Fifteen years ago, he and his wife moved to moved to Rangeley from Madison specifically for the snowmobiling. About 95 percent of the Lyons' wintertime business comes from vacationing snowmobilers.

Five years ago, Tim Lyons' sled broke through the ice on Rangeley Lake, but he quickly scrambled out of the water. He was lucky, but it was a painful experience, he said.

"You know when you hit a baseball wrong, and the bat stings your fingers? When you go into the water, it stings just like that all over your body, wherever you're wet," he said.

Libby also has broken through the ice on a sled, on a different body of water.

"As soon as you're in the water, you can't breathe. It instantly constricts everything and takes your breath right away," he said. "When it's this cold, you've got about 15 minutes and you're done."

Libby said he's unsure whether the tragedy will dampen business this season. Novice snowmobilers might be shaken by the news, but veterans of the sport -- who understand that the accident could have been avoided -- will be less affected by it, he said.

"Snowmobilers are pretty resilient people."

Meanwhile, Adam said ice throughout the state is unsafe, and he urged caution.

"This is really hard on families," he said of the recovery operation. "I just beg people: Do not go out on the ice unless you absolutely know it's safe."

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Ben McCanna can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Lee Libby, a snowmobile guide in Rangeley, says Rangeley Lake is typically unsafe this time of year. “I won’t go on it until the first or second week of January,” he said.

David Leaming / Morning Sentinel

click image to enlarge

A Maine Warden Service photo of Rangeley Lake, where the search for three missing snowmobilers was suspended Tuesday due to bad weather.


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