by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle 3-4-2013
NEWPORT CENTER — A missing Newport Center man’s body was found Monday afternoon by State Police divers in Lake Memphremagog. Vermont State Police Lieutenant Kirk Cooper said he was 53-year-old Jacques LeBlanc.
According to the State Police, Mr. LeBlanc broke through the ice at approximately 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 2. Mr. LeBlanc was in the process of moving an ice shanty while using a tractor when he broke through. While the exact cause of the accident has not yet been determined the presence of a nearly one-third of a mile long pressure crack appears to have been a contributing factor.
The State Police estimate the depth of the water at the accident site as between 25 feet and 30 feet. Prior to the entry of divers the State Police had operated a remote operated vehicle in the hopes of finding the victim, Sergeant Sean Selby reported.
The State Police dive team is contending with difficult conditions caused by a combination of low light and heavy sedimentation in the water, Lieutenant Cooper reported. The divers are tethered to ropes to help guide them back to the opening that rescuers have cut through the ice, Sergeant Selby said.
“The safety of the dive team is a top priority,” Sergeant Selby said.
Newport Center volunteer firefighter Pat Corkins said that pressure cracks along the lake have been the cause of several other breakthroughs both this season as well as in the past. Mr. Corkins was one of the Newport Center Fire Department members assisting at the site on Monday morning.
“When the ice is buckling like that you can bet there’s thin ice or open water around it,” Mr. Corkins said. “You need to stay as far away from those cracks as you can, at least a hundred feet or more. But you can’t always see where the cracks are especially in the dark or during whiteout conditions like you have today.”
Lake ice conditions can vary greatly from one location to the next, Lieutenant Cooper said. That can make navigating the lake with a vehicle treacherous even for experienced ice fishermen, he said.
“The safest thing to do is to not drive on the ice at all,” Lieutenant Cooper said. “You don’t really know the depth of the ice until you drill through it.”
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