Me: Snowmobilers "skim" lake water to stay alive
- Snowmobilers "skim" lake water to stay alive
By David Sharp
The Associated Press
Portland, Maine - A snowmobile operator who encountered open water while
racing across a partly frozen lake saved himself from drowning by
accelerating fast enough to glide over the waves for at least a mile.
Another rider was missing and presumed dead.
Gary Huntley said he had never ridden a snowmobile over water - a
dangerous practice known as "skimming" - but had heard it was possible.
So when the ice on one of Maine's largest lakes abruptly ended during a
ride Saturday, Huntley and a companion made a split-second decision to
accelerate onto the water.
"I just thought to myself that as long as the sled is moving and I'm
sitting on it, I'll be able to breathe and live," he said. "If I end up in
the water, I don't have a chance."
It's widely known that snowmobiles can stay afloat for short distances on
open water. The trick, riders say, is to maintain speed so that the belt
driving the snowmobile becomes something of a paddle wheel. Let off the
throttle, riders say, and the snowmobile will sink.
State legislators outlawed skimming in 2003, but game wardens who
investigated the incident credited the riders' instincts with saving their
"At least two of them did what was under the circumstances the best thing
to do. But what a terrible position to be in," said Bob Meyers, executive
director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.
Huntley, 44, of Oxford, estimated he traveled about a mile before reaching
safety. Wardens said the distance was at least 2 miles.
A companion, Jonathan Herbster of Bedford, Mass., also survived by
traveling a half-mile across the water.
A third rider, Paul Blanco of Carlisle, Mass., was missing and presumed
drowned. Divers found his snowmobile in 30 feet of water, but there was no
sign of his body.
Earlier that day, the men rode across three other frozen lakes that had no
gaps in the ice.
Huntley said he was traveling about 40 mph when he spotted open water ahead.
He figured he was already on thin ice and would sink if he stopped. So he
gunned the throttle, hitting the water at 80 mph.
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