Rescuers aid anglers hung up on Mascoma Lake dam

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-13-2023 1:48 PM

LEBANON — Emergency responders rescued three people aboard a pontoon boat that was caught amid high waters on the Mascoma River dam on Wednesday morning.

The boat’s owner, Leroy Hawksley, 79, of Windsor, said the group put the boat in the water at about 9:30 a.m. in hopes of going fishing. But a rush of water near the dam pulled the boat sideways and then motor stalled. With the lake at elevated levels, the current pulled the craft toward the dam, where it went most of the way over before the stern got stuck.

Debbie Laurie, 70, of Deer Island, Ore., and Bob Therrien, of Lebanon, also were on board the boat at the time.

Jamie and Sharyn Goddard, who are staying at the Mascoma Lake Campground, were walking on the nearby rail trail when the boat get stuck a little before 10 a.m.

It was “a good example of bad boating,” Sharyn Goddard said as she and her husband watched rescue operations from the Payne Road bridge.

“I can’t leave until I see them get out of the boat,” she said. The rescuers arrived quickly, she said, and tied the boat in place with a rope.

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At the scene, Lebanon Fire Chief James Wheatley said rescuing boats while stuck on the dam often is more challenging than after they go over it. Once past the dam, boats can be directed to eddies with slower water. But in this case, the job was made somewhat easier because the boat was positioned to one side of the dam and rescuers were able to secure it and provide the boaters with personal floatation devices.

“Where they are is a good spot,” Wheatley said.

Firefighters were positioned along both sides of the river next to the dam. They also put in a boat downriver to be in position to catch the pontoon should it become dislodged from the dam. A couple of other firefighters were positioned on a downstream bridge with ropes.

Rescuers were able to assist the boaters onto a nearby ladder on the dam to get them out of the boat. By 10:40 a.m., all three were on shore, and they walked to a waiting ambulance where first responders checked their vital signs. None of three had to be transported for treatment.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, the boat remained stuck.

The rescue came as water levels were elevated due to recent storms. The lake was more than 18 inches above typical levels, Dan Mattaini, chief of operations at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Dam Bureau, told the Valley News on Tuesday.

He also said Tuesday that people should avoid going near the dam.

The normal flow from the dam is 600 cubic feet per second. Due to increased rainfall, the dam is currently discharging at 3,200 cubic feet per second, the Lebanon Fire Department said in a news release Wednesday.

Officials in Vermont also were warning people away from waterways on Wednesday even though river levels are returning to normal levels.

“Currents are fast, there is a tremendous amount of debris, and everyone is advised to stay off our rivers for the time being,” according to a news release from the Vermont Emergency Operations Center.

The rescue was the second one Lebanon has responded to at the lake this year, Wheatley said, noting that area fire departments were prepared for more water rescues in recent days, but the Mascoma River valley had been largely spared the worst of the flooding.

During the rescue on Wednesday, two kayakers were paddling on the lake and visible from the dam scene. Given the rainy summer so far, Wheatley said he understood the temptation to “get out and enjoy the weather while they can.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.]]>