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Vermont snowmobiler presumed dead in weekend drowning

Body still not found as of Tuesday morning

Fish and Game rescue crews plan their search of the open water on the Connecticut River on Monday. They were working to recover the body of Adam Debartolo, a snowmobiler who is believed to have drowned in the icy water on Sunday while engaging in the dangerous practice of skimming with two friends. Officers believe alcohol was a factor. Jonathan Benton. (click for larger version)
April 06, 2011
LANCASTER — After a thorough search through icy waters NH Fish and Game divers were still not able to recover the body of a Vermont snowmobiler believed drowned in the Connecticut River by the Rodger's Rangers Bridge on Route 2 on Sunday, April 3.

The body was not discovered by press time, but the Fish and Game continued their search on 8 a.m.Tuesday morning and expect to find it that day. The area by the bridge is now more open, but if the body is not found there it could potetntially have floated down to the Gilman dam.

"This was an unfortunate result of individuals that were intentionally skimming across the open water that in itself is illegal," said Lieutenant Douglas Gralenski of Fish and Game. "There is a high degree of risk and recklessness involved and we strongly encourage people not to do it because the consequences can be fatal."

First thing on Monday morning, 12 Fish and Game officers including six divers began a recovery mission for the body of Adam Debartolo, 28, of Perkinsville, Vt. who was last seen going in the water and not seen coming out around 4:15 p.m. on Sunday. Debartolo was accompanied by two other snowmobilers, Aaron McCarthy, 39 and Dwayne Secord, 33, both of Baltimore, Vt. McCarthy had also broken through the ice, but managed to swim to shore. Charges of reckless conduct and driving while intoxicated are pending against both men, noted Gralenski. With at least three sets of snowmobile tracks found on the ice it was speculated that the two men who lost their machines had skimmed across the river more then once.

The recovery of Debartolo seemed promising at 9:30 a.m. on Monday when his snowmobile was spotted by divers about 50 feet from the shoreline and a cellphone found. According to Gralenski the temperature of the river is about 36-38 degrees making it only five to ten minutes before a person would start to succumb to drowning and even sooner if they are taking in mouthfuls of water.

"If he drowned and there is no air trapped in his clothing he should be stationary on the ground," said Gralenski, "the only concern would be air pockets in his clothing could create a little buoyancy." In which case Debartolo would have been taken further down stream.

A number of complications have affected the search mission. The small section of open water surrounded by ice makes for dangerous water conditions and an air-boat was brought in as a safe platform from which to operate. Entering the river was not easy, however, and a Caterpillar Wheel loader was utilized to get the air-boat into the water. Time also had to be taken to break up the ice with the air boat in order to continue the methodical grid search. A task that gives the boat a beating and was considered an above and beyond effort by Gralenski.

While Debartolo's machine was found just left of the bridge, facing Vermont, the snowmobile of McCarthy was determined 300 yards north of it with a helmet lying beside the entry point.

According to Gralenski the water reaches a depth of about 15 feet which is a typical depth for the river and has a plain sandy floor.

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