February 28, 2007

Carlisle Man Presumed Drowned in Maine

By Michael Lafleur, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.

Feb. 28--Maine authorities yesterday said Carlisle resident Paul Blanco is presumed to have drowned after mistakenly driving his snowmobile into open water on Sebago Lake Saturday night.

Mark Latti, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, yesterday said authorities have been searching the northern end of the lake for the 45-year-old Blanco's body since the accident occurred.

He said boats and divers searched Sunday and Monday, and new boat crews yesterday were searching deeper areas of the lake with sonar. Latti said the lake -- Maine's second largest -- drops to about 200 feet in the area being searched.

Blanco and companions Jonathan Herbster of Bedford, Mass., and Gary Huntley, of Oxford, Maine, were riding near Sebago Lake State Park, at about 8 p.m. Saturday when they hit a patch of open water, Latti said. They were not on a marked trail. Latti said the men were unfamiliar with the area and assumed the lake -- which does not freeze every year because of its size -- was entirely frozen.

There was not enough room between the men and the open water for them to turn around, Latti said. They responded by riding their snowmobiles across the water, an act known as "skimming" or "skipping."

Huntley made it across the lake, a distance of 2.5 to 3 miles, Latti said. Herbster, who struck and ice flow that redirected his path, skimmed for about a mile.

No one knows how far Blanco was able to make it, Latti said. When Herbster hit land, he saw only the headlights of Huntley's snowmobile on the water. Latti described Huntley's nearly 3-mile skim as "unheard of."

"It's a pretty amazing feat of survival," he said. "Those two guys are fortunate they're not in the water along with Paul."

Latti said Blanco's presumed death would be the first snowmobile drowning in Maine in four years.


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