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Warden service: Winds caused pilot to alter landing before plane went through ice

EAGLE LAKE, Maine — A Maine Warden Service pilot was able to safely get out of his Cessna 185 plane Wednesday after it broke through thin ice on Eagle Lake while he was taxiing toward base.

Game Warden Pilot Jeff Spencer, was returning from a bear telemetry flight just after 11 a.m. and due to strong winds chose to alter his normal landing pattern slightly on the lake, according to a press release issued late Wednesday by Cpl.l John MacDonald of the warden service.

“After landing, Pilot Spencer proceeded to taxi across the ice toward the Warden Service Plane Base located on the west shore of Eagle Lake,” MacDonald said. “While taxing, Pilot Spencer crossed an area of thin ice and the aircraft broke through.”

Spencer was able to exit the aircraft without injury, however the aircraft became partially submerged and was suspended by its wings and tail.

“We feel very fortunate this evening that Warden Pilot Jeff Spencer escaped this incident without injury,” MacDonald said.

The corporal said wardens had drilled several test holes in various locations near the plane base on Dec. 18  and determined the ice was safe for aircraft operations.

Peter Pinette, who lives in a home next to the lake, snapped a photo of the plane Wednesday afternoon that his wife Sandra posted on her Facebook page along with a warning to others in the area: “Please stay off the lake. It is not safe. Game Warden plane didn’t make it back to shore on landing. Pilot safe.”

Peter Pinette said Wednesday, “Nobody should be on the lake without testing it.”

He added that on Friday, Dec. 15, he and his adult son measured the ice on the lake and found it to be unsafe.

“My son and I were cutting holes to see the thickness of the ice and near the shore it was about six to eight inches. As we were going out to the center it was dropping down in size to four inches. One place had three inches and we decided that was it. We walked back. We weren’t going any further. It’s not a good situation,” he said.

According to MacDonald, wardens were making plans to remove the aircraft from the icy lake, after which they will assess the full extent of the damage to the Cessna.

The plane is one of four aircraft operated by the warden service.

“The Eagle Lake Plane Base has been in operation since 1949 and ski equipped aircraft have been used by the Warden Service since the 1940’s for biological, search and rescue and law enforcement operations,” MacDonald said.

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