First responders from the Denmark Fire Department and other agencies rescued five people on Moose Pond on Saturday. Denmark Fire Department photo

State and local officials are warning Mainers to be careful when going out on frozen ponds and lakes, saying the up-and-down temperatures and rain this winter have made for dangerous conditions, even near the end of January.

On Friday, Carmel’s town manager and his 4-year-old son broke through the ice on Etna Pond. Kevin Howell, 51, managed to lift his son out of the water, but he couldn’t get out himself and died.

Five people, including three children, were rescued from Moose Pond in Denmark on Saturday after the vehicle they were in broke through the ice, according to Denmark fire Chief Chris Wentworth.

“Until we get some longer-term frozen conditions and the rain stops, it would be my recommendation that certainly no one should bring any vehicle on the ice. But also even walking across ice is risky at this time as well,” Wentworth said Sunday. “Unfortunately, that incident in Carmel shows that even more so than what happened in Denmark. This year the multiple rainstorms and fog has made it very poor ice conditions.”

Two or 3 inches of rain falling onto snow will soften the ice underneath, he said. Anyone heading out on a frozen body of water should bring flotation devices and self-rescue gear, and use a chisel to test the ice depth, Wentworth said.

“People also need to be aware of the body of water they’re on,” Wentworth said. For instance, Moose Pond has several springs that keep the water moving enough below the ice surface that it doesn’t freeze well, even during the coldest winters, he said.


MaineDOT graphic

Mark Latti, of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, agrees that the ice is unsafe on many waterbodies so far this year.

“It’s been an unusual winter compared to what we’re used to,” Latti said Sunday. “Like last year, the ice has come in late, and (there is) treacherous ice in certain areas well into January. So like we always do, we’re urging people to check the ice before going out, and not just check it in one area,” but multiple spots. There should be at least 4 to 6 inches of hard ice, he said.

Kevin Howell, 51, the town manager for the Penobscot County town of Carmel, died Friday when he and his son broke through ice on Etna Pond. The son was saved. Photo submitted by Howell’s family

On Friday Kevin Howell, 51, and his 4-year-old son broke through the ice while walking on Etna Pond in Carmel. He saved his son by lifting him out of the water onto the ice, but Howell died.

Howell was the town manager in Carmel, and colleagues and friends said his death is a huge loss to the community and his family.

Whether to go out on the ice is a personal decision, Latti said, adding he did some ice fishing in central Maine on Saturday where there was 10 inches of ice and conditions were safe.

But ice conditions can change from one spot to another, he said. There may be 8 inches of ice in some areas, but very little nearby if there’s current underneath, Latti said. Ice that is 4 to 6 inches thick but “honeycombed,” or soft and mushy, “would make me hesitate,” he said. “It won’t support as much as hard, black ice.”


Several ice fishing derbies are scheduled throughout Maine this winter. In Wilton, the Hollandstrong Community Foundation held its annual fishing derby on Wilson Lake this weekend and there were no problems.

One of the organizers, Deb Roberts, said Sunday that the lake was safe and had hundreds of people on it. “The derby went really well,” she said. She asks people not to drive vehicles on the ice, and every time someone comes into the derby shack to register, “I said: ‘Be safe. Check your ice depths for yourself wherever you go,’ ” Roberts said.

In Denmark on Saturday, the five people who broke through the ice were lucky that someone heard their cries, and that they weren’t in deep water, Latti said. Their utility vehicle probably weighed 1,500 to 2,000 pounds with five people in it.

At 5:26 p.m., a 911 call came in reporting that people were in the icy water on Moose Pond. Firefighters responded with ice rescue equipment.

The three children and two adults were about 150 feet from the shore in 7 feet of water. They stood on the roof of the UTV and held onto each other, Wentworth said.

Luckily, someone inside a home heard them yelling. “The people inside were playing games or watching television. One thought they heard someone, Wentworth said. “They went outside, discovered the five in the water, and called 911.”


Game wardens used an ice rescue raft to retrieve the body of Walter Demmons from where he broke through the ice in December on Quakish Lake in Indian Purchase Township in Penobscot County. Courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

When first responders arrived they found the five suffering from hypothermia and unable to get to shore. Rescue personnel pushed an ice rescue sled over the ice and open water, and pulled it back to shore carrying one or two people per trip, Wentworth said. Within 47 minutes of the initial call, all five were rescued and transported to the hospital.

Residents of the nearby home were helpful. “They let all of us in,” Wentworth said. Once first responders got them out of the water, the residents allowed them to warm up in the home while paramedics helped them before transporting them to the Bridgton Hospital, where they were treated and released, he said.

“They are extremely lucky,” Wentworth said – many of the nearby homes are seasonal, and it was fortunate someone was home and heard them.

After 10 minutes in water that is colder than 40 degrees, a person loses control of leg and arm movements, and hypothermia can bring on unconsciousness, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Last month, another Penobscot County man drowned after he broke through the ice on Quakish Lake in Indian Purchase Township. Walter Demmons, 62, of Milford, and a friend were preparing to ice fish about 75 yards from shore on Dec. 8. They were drilling to determine the ice thickness when they heard it crack, according to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Service.

They two fell into the water. Demmons’ friend got out, but Demmons did not make it. His friend saw him go under and he never came back up. The man called 911 and Demmons’ body was found by divers.

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