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North Conway man drowns in fishing accident in Madison

Officials warn that lakes are still cold and potentially dangerous

May 13, 2010
MADISON — State safety officers remind boaters to use life preservers while out on the water in the aftermath of the drowning of a fisherman in Big Pea Porridge Pond on May 7. Meanwhile, Memorial Hospital in Conway is struggling with the loss of an employee who was never afraid to help others, according to its CEO.

The victim has been identified as Roy Estey, 33, of North Conway. Witnesses told fire fighters and police officers that Estey had been fishing from a canoe, which tipped over. According to his obituary, Estey was an avid fisherman and hunter who worked at the Maintenance Department at Memorial Hospital for years.

"They (witnesses) said the victim was not wearing a personal floatation device and yelled that he couldn't swim," according to a statement from the New Hampshire Marine Patrol. "The victim went under and was not seen again."

The Marine Patrol was alerted to the incident shortly before 2:30 p.m. At around 5:30 p.m., a dive team from New Hampshire Fish and Game Department found Estey's body and brought it to shore. Estey's body was found in 18 feet of water about 100 yards from the boat launch. These four emergency services sent boats to search for Estey: Madison Fire and Rescue, Conway Fire and Rescue, New Hampshire Fish and Game, and New Hampshire Marine Patrol.

Officials from New Hampshire Marine Patrol and Fish and Game remind boaters to wear life preservers, as they are required equipment on all vessels — including canoes. All people under the age of 12 must wear them while boating.

"Warm summer temperatures get people out early, but the water is still cold and things can go wrong very quickly," said Conservation Officer Brian Abrams who responded to the incident, which he called a "tragedy."

Abrams said the water temperature at Big Pea Porridge Pond was a chilly 60 degrees on Friday.

"That's definitely a shock to the system," he said.

The cold would shorten the amount of time a person would last before suffering from exposure and hypothermia. The human body reacts to cold by restricting blood flow to the limbs in an attempt to keep its core temperature up. That process eventually makes it difficult for people to use their extremities, said Marine Patrol Lt. Tim Dunleavy.

Water doesn't necessarily have to be cold to cause hypothermia —it just has to cause the body temperature to decrease. For instance, even in relatively warm water the initial stages of hypothermia can be evident in little children who play in the water for an extended period — as they tend to emerge with blue lips and chattering teeth, said Dunleavy.

According to the Marine Patrol, people who find themselves in cold water should try to reduce the effects of hypothermia by drawing their knees to their chest and their arms to their sides to reduce heat loss. They should also avoid thrashing about.

There are all types of floatation devices that boaters can try. Marine Patrol and Conservation officers wear a kind that's inflatable and look like suspenders. These life preservers allow for a full range of movement, said Dunleavy. Type 1 offshore life preservers are specifically designed to keep a person's head above water. Other types are meant to keep people afloat in places where a quick rescue is likely.

Estey's death is the third fatal accident that the Marine Patrol has handled this year. A woman was killed in a canoe accident on the headwaters of the Lamprey River in Raymond and a kayaker was killed in the Connecticut River, said Dunleavy.

As of yet, there is no indication that drugs or alcohol played a factor in Estey's death. However, drug and alcohol screenings will be performed because the accident was fatal. Results would likely be available in weeks, said Dunleavy.

Pea Porridge Pond is located off of Pondwood Drive. It spans 142 acres and has a maximum depth of 45 feet with an average depth of 13 feet, according a map on New Hampshire Fish and Game's website www.wildlife.state.nh.us.

Big Pea Porridge Pond is a popular fishing destination that contains sought after game fish such as rainbow trout and smallmouth bass, said Abrams. Big Pea Porridge Pond also has a population of loons. The water is pristine because gas motors aren't allowed on it. Big Pea Porridge Pond is connected to Middle and Little Pea Porridge Ponds. There was a drowning on Middle Pea Porridge Pond about 10 years ago, said Abrams who added the hearts of rescue workers goes out to Estey's family.

The CEO of Memorial Hospital, Scott McKinnon, said Estey was well known within the hospital as a man who liked to help other people — whether they were staff or patients. For example, McKinnon recalled that at last year's company barbeque, the hospital's senior leadership was struggling with the cooking so Estey offered his assistance.

Just last month, Estey was given positive recognition at a management meeting for building a DVD player stand out of an obsolete monitor cart. McKinnon said Estey thought of a creative solution to the hospital's problem of not having a portable stand for movie players.

"He was always willing to jump right in," said McKinnon. "The hospital is reeling."

A memorial fund to benefit his family, including his three-year-old son, Roy W. Estey, has been set up at TD Bank in Conway. His mother, Karen, described her son as a loving father in addition to being an outdoorsman.

Also responding to the scene were Madison Police, New Hampshire State Police, Conway Police, and the Carroll County Sheriff's Department.

For more information about Estey see his obituary on page 10.

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