SOUTHWEST HARBOR – Three people were rescued after falling into the water on Long Pond while snowmobiling Wednesday. All were treated for hypothermia at Mount Desert Island Hospital and are doing well, according to reports.
Eli Strauss, 43, of Mount Desert, his 13-year-old daughter, Julia, and her friend Jolie Deal, also age 13, were rescued, according to the Maine Warden Service. “Early indications are that all three entered the water on one snowmobile operated by Eli Strauss,” the Warden Service reported. “The three were able to swim to the pond’s southeast shoreline.”
After they all got safely out of the water, they began a trek through the woods for help together.
Thus, what started as a possible cold-water rescue turned into a rescue of very cold people lost in the woods on the side of a mountain in a difficult-to-reach area.
Strauss and the two girls had been snowmobiling on Somes Pond near their home on Oak Hill Road. Strauss was pulling the girls on a tube behind a snowmobile, his wife, Robin, told first responders. She went to check on the three at about 4:30 p.m. and observed only the tube and rope left at Somes Pond. When they did not return home as expected, she called the Bar Harbor Police Department just after 5:30 p.m.
Responders were advised by his wife that Strauss occasionally drove to nearby Long Pond on his snowmobile, so initial search efforts began there.
Lt. Jenn Martel of the Southwest Harbor Fire Department was initially in command of the operation, said Southwest Harbor Fire Chief Jack Martel. Deputy Chief Tom Chisholm took over so Jenn Martel could join the cold-water rescue team. Clad in special rescue suits, firefighters began to search the area.
“Knowing there was open water near the south end of Long Pond, Lt. Mike Miller of the Southwest Harbor Police Department drove to the boat launch located at the south end of Long Pond,” wardens said. “As he stood at the shoreline, he heard hollering from the southeastern shore near ledges that entered into the water.”
Voice contact was made with the three a short time later. Eli Strauss was hypothermic and could not walk unassisted.
Crews from the Mount Desert Fire Department, Southwest Harbor Fire Department, Southwest Harbor-Tremont Ambulance and Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue, along with wardens, located the victims and helped them out.
“Many rescuers crossed the snow-covered and dangerous ice with equipment to assist with the rescue,” Martel said.
Southwest Harbor town snow plows cleared and sanded the steep and snowy Long Pond Road so the ambulances could access the pond, Martel said.
Rescuers got to the teenagers first, ferrying them to waiting ambulances. They were on their way to the hospital between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m.
Efforts to remove Strauss from the woods took more time, as terrain and conditions were challenging.
Firefighters carried a stokes basket to the last victim, Martel said. “The steep, snow covered and slippery terrain made for an extremely difficult rescue of bringing the very cold victim back down the wooded slope to the pond where he could be transported by snowmobile or 4-wheeler,” he said. Strauss was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital just after 9 p.m.
The whole operation took about four hours.
The snowmobile remains in Long Pond, which is the water supply for Southwest Harbor. Efforts to remove the machine will be arranged in the coming days.
Game wardens were to return to the area Thursday and hoped to take photos to better understand the ice conditions on Long Pond and the location of the snowmobile. “Even with the recent cold temperatures, this incident is a harsh reminder that ice travel on any water body at any time needs to be done with a high level of precaution,” a Warden Service statement said.
The Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service also assisted in the rescue. The Bar Harbor Fire Department helped cover other emergency medical calls on the island.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Deal’s name and the ages of the girls. Is also incorrectly claimed that Eli Strauss left the girls to go find help. The Islander apologizes for the errors.