Multi-department water rescue operation after ice skater falls in Maine lake

Several departments answered the call by responding with rescue teams, equipment and other gear needed to protect both first responders on site and the rescue victim


Mark LaFlamme
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

OXFORD, Maine — Rescuers from several departments plucked a man out of Thompson Lake late Wednesday afternoon after it was reported the victim had fallen through the ice while skating near Briggs Lane.

Officials from the Maine Department of Wildlife and Inland Fisheries said that at about 4 p.m., Mark Simpson, 56, of Pine Point Road in Oxford, went through the ice in the area of 11 Briggs Lane, which connects Route 121 to Wardwell Island on the west shore of the lake. Pine Point Road is a horseshoe-shaped road off Route 121 near the causeway.

Oxford Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Hewey said his per diem staff was just cleaning up the station and preparing to go home when Oxford Police Chief Mike Ward told them there was a report of a man in the water on Thompson Lake.

"We were out the door pretty quick," Hewey said. "Thank God we have that per diem staff so we didn't have to wait for crews to come to the station to get a truck to the scene."

When they got to the lake, Hewey said, they could hear the man in the water still calling for help. They were able to spot him with binoculars and calls were put out to departments in Oxford, Otisfield, Poland, Paris, Norway and other towns to send crews and equipment.

 

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"A call like this is very labor intensive," Hewey said. "It takes a lot of manpower, mutual aid and special equipment. It's a very dangerous type of call."

In the minutes after the call came in, rescuers began suiting up in ice water gear as the first attempts were being made to retrieve the victim from the water. Meanwhile, other departments from Bethel, Bridgton and Rumford also started equipment to the scene.

At 4:30 p.m., Hewey and his crews were able to get close to the man in the water and ultimately to get him up onto a sled, which was hauled back to shore.

"Obviously he was lethargic and shivering," Hewey said. "Hypothermia was kicking in very quickly. But he was alert enough when he got him in the back of the ambulance."

Simpson was taken by Oxford Rescue to Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, according to Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Spokesman Mark Latti. Simpson was still at the hospital later Wednesday night. A nursing supervisor at the hospital said his condition would not be made available until Thursday morning.

No rescuers were hurt in the effort. A short time after the victim was pulled to safety, it was reported that all crews were off the ice.

"I'm glad we were able to have a successful rescue," Hewey said.

Safety officials generally advise that two inches of solid ice for any single person on foot. It was not clear how thick the ice was on the shore of Thompson Lake.

"Even though temperatures have been colder recently, ice conditions on this lake and others in the area remain very inconsistent and dangerous," said Maine Game Warden Harry Wiegman who was part of the rescue crew that saved Simpson. "Rescue crews did an excellent job in very difficult and challenging conditions to rescue Simpson."

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(c)2021 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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