Good deed makes big splash in Sebago

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

RAYMOND — Helping your neighbor can land you on the national news.

After a workday of plowing snow — during a storm that closed schools — local businessman Michael Manning was headed home. From Route 302, he caught a glimpse of a stranded vehicle on the ice near the Raymond Public Boat Launch.

“I saw a vehicle stuck out on the ice. From the road, I saw a couple of guys shoveling. I went to see if I could give them a hand,” Manning said, adding he didn’t personally know the motorists in trouble.

It was 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 2, when Manning pulled his plow truck plus sander onto the scene — onto the ice of Sebago Lake more than 1,000 feet from the shoreline, where a Subaru was stuck and a cluster of ice shacks were located.

Then, his rig plunged through the ice.

“I was able to get out. It was only seven feet of water. The back (of the plow truck) went through. The front stayed up on the ice,” said Manning, who owns MGM Builders in Windham.

The image of his plow truck trapped in the lake ice appeared on local television news — and even made the national news.

Two days passed, and it was Friday, Feb. 4, before R. Stewart Heavy Hauling had staged the material and equipment and manpower necessary to remove Manning’s 2009 plow truck from the icy waters. On the following afternoon, Feb. 5, the dump body with sander attached — which had been cut from the cab, frame, and plow during Friday’s operations — was also pulled out of the lake.

The vehicle was a total loss, according to Manning.

Already, four residents have offered Manning the use of their plow trucks so he can fulfill his snow-removal contracts for the season.

“I think that’s nice of people,” he said.

With the loss of the plow truck, MGM Builders has one remaining plow truck and a loader for commercial snow-removal jobs. In recent years, the company had downsized its snow-removal fleet from four plow trucks to two rigs, Manning said. In addition, it can take a month or longer for a custom-ordered vehicle to be road ready, he said.

It took 42 hours and 1,900 feet of custom-made cables to yank Manning’s custom-made commercial plowing truck from the grip of Sebago Lake ice.

“It’s hard to find cable that long on short order,” Manning said.

R. Stewart Heavy Hauling was called Wednesday night, and an employee went to examine the site but couldn’t find the vehicle, according to co-owner Dick Stewart. He credited not only his brother, Bubba Stewart, and crew from Stewart’s towing, but also Gary Carnell from Advanced Towing in Windham and workers from Sea-Tow, which does underwater boat recoveries.

On Thursday morning, Feb. 3, crews converged at the boat launch in Raymond.

“We found out it was half a mile out on the ice, not a quarter mile away. It was a 20,000-plus pound vehicle in the water. We had to come up with a game plan,” Stewart said, adding divers were contacted to cut holes in the ice so everyone could get a better look at what was being towed.

On that first day, the major challenge was finding cable that was long enough and strong enough to rescue the dunked truck.

“It was probably late afternoon before we started trying to pull it. Then, we started breaking cables,” Stewart said.  There was no choice but to special order more cable, he said. From a company in Biddeford, Stewart requested 3/4-, 7/8- and 1-inch-diameter cable with a length close to 2,000 feet.

Friday morning, Stewart picked up the extra-strength cables and brought the company’s outdoor light tower — in case the tow job lasted past dusk, which it did. To get rid of some additional weight, divers cut the sander and truck bed from the frame and cab, which had the plow attached. Then, the task of towing 7,500 pounds began, and it didn’t end until close to midnight.

“I can’t tell you exactly what we said when we got the truck out,” he laughed. Stewart explained that crews were communicating on cell phones. The crew by the truck had said to keep pulling until they said stop.

“The guys down on the ice started yelling, ‘It’s out! It’s out. It’s out.’ And then, the guys on shore started yelling. Everyone was happy,” he said, adding the truck got to the South Portland garage at 3 a.m. Then, the whole group re-assembled at 9 a.m. to complete the job.

“When we pulled it out of the water, it had just started snowing. At the same time, the plane flew over us. The plane that later crashed in Sebago passed over us,” Stewart said. The back end of the plow truck was removed from Sebago between 3:30 and 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5, he said.

“It was probably the longest tow from a lake in the history of Maine,” Stewart laughed.

On Sunday, a Raymond resident was enjoying a quiet, sunny day on the ice. During the two previous days, she had witnessed attempts to tow the truck from its watery parking spot.

“It was quite a production” to remove the truck from the ice, she said. She described the truck being cut in two before it was towed from the lake ice.

On Sunday, another ice fisherman was Lewiston resident Frank Berry, who was on the ice to “drill some holes and play.” Ice fishing on Sebago Lake is his Sunday ritual.

When Berry and his fishing buddy arrived at the lake on Feb. 6, the plow truck was gone. But, both men had seen footage on the television news.

Berry said he was surprised to hear that anyone driving something as heavy as a plow truck would venture out onto the ice. He estimated his decade-old American-built snowmobile weighed about 400 pounds. He’d heard the plow truck was close to 20,000 pounds.

“It’s not a good, solid ice yet,” Berry said.

The previous Sunday, on Jan. 30, Berry measured the ice a few hundred feet from the shoreline.

“You’d be lucky if the ice was 5 inches,” last week, he said.

“Now, it’s horribly slushy,” Berry said of Sunday’s ice conditions. A rainstorm had hit the region overnight on Feb. 6, leaving almost two inches of snowy slush on the ice.

Out of curiosity, the men drilled another hole about 10 feet from the spot where the plow truck took the plunge. They discovered the ice was nine inches thick.

“The hole made by the truck probably won’t re-freeze before the derby,” Berry said, adding unless a week of sub-zero temperatures precedes the Sebago Lake Rotary Derbyfest.

Meanwhile, the afternoon traffic was heating up — people were pulling into the boat launch parking lot and staring across the ice to where the plow truck fell through.

“I’m just rubber-necking,” laughed a woman driving a blue SUV. She explained she was a longtime friend of Manning’s.

“I just drove by to see if Mike got his plow truck out of the ice,” she said.

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