Not a day goes by that Cindy Thompson doesn’t think about her son, Ken Henderson, who died a year ago while snowmobiling on Rangeley Lake.
“He was my life,” she said.
Henderson, 40, of China, and his cousin, Glenn Henderson, 43, of Sabattus, were snowmobiling Dec. 30, 2012, with John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield. They all went into the lake and were not found until May.
That same night, Dawn Newell, 45, of Yarmouth, and her 16-year-old son were snowmobiling on the lake and her snowmobile plunged into the water. The teen jumped from his snowmobile onto solid ice and survived. She did not and her body was recovered the next day.
With snowmobile season in full swing, The Maine Warden Service and Maine Snowmobile Association are ramping up efforts to promote snowmobile safety awareness.
Don’t speed, check with people who know the area before going out on your snowmobile, let people know where you are going and do not drink and drive a snowmobile, they say.
But while Thompson supports those awareness efforts, she says she wants people to know that accidents can happen, even with the most experienced and rule-abiding snowmobilers.
Her son and nephew, for instance, did not die as a result of drinking, she said.
“It was a very tragic accident, due to the fact that they couldn’t see in the blinding snowstorm,” she said. “They didn’t just drive into open water. These guys knew what they were doing. It’s a big difference. Kenny and Glenn were avid outdoors men. They knew the outdoors. They worked outdoors. Glenn was a crane operator. Kenny was a foreman ironworker. They hunted. They fished. They just loved the outdoors. They snowmobiled.”
She said people must be careful on the ice, but options are few in a blinding snowstorm. She likened the situation her son was in to a tractor-trailer coming down the highway in a storm next to a car and blowing snow onto the windshield — the car’s driver can’t see the road.
“You can get turned around real quick when you can’t see where you are going. When you can’t see, you can’t judge. I do know that there was a path across the lake that was frozen, but they got onto the other side.”
Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service confirmed Friday that alcohol was not a factor in the Rangeley snowmobile deaths.
“The most obvious contributing factor was extremely poor weather conditions,” MacDonald said.
Meanwhile, Thompson, of Chelsea, can’t say enough about the people of Rangeley, the Warden Service, the divers and others who worked so hard to find her son, nephew and their friend, John Spencer, whom she said she did not know.
“They are awesome,” she said. “They’ve done such a magnificent job. It’s true we had to wait, but there are so many reasons we had to wait.”
The Hendersons and Spencer drove to Carrabassett Valley Dec. 30, 2012, to snowmobile for the day only, according to Thompson. They parked their truck and drove their snowmobiles 32 miles to Rangeley, she said.
Ken — her only son — and Glenn Henderson had snowmobiled together before. In fact, they did a lot of outdoor activities together, including racing cars at Oxford. And they both worked hard.
“They were more brothers than they ever were cousins,” she said. “They were so close.”
She and Ken’s father are divorced. She remarried, but her husband died two and a half years ago.
The last year has been tough. Her loss was devastating.
“If you took everything that mattered to you, and took it away, what do you have left?” she said.
How does one cope with such loss?
“Put your faith in God,” she said. “That’s all I can say. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m religious because I’m not, but you have to believe.”
The five months waiting for the bodies to be recovered was grueling.
“The fact that the wardens found them was a miracle in itself, and we know where they are. They’re in heaven. I can’t stress enough how much the wardens did. People don’t have a clue unless they were up there (in Rangeley). They’re just wonderful people, and they really put their hearts and soul into it. They worked so hard. They worked so hard.”
Ken’s wife, Carolyn Henderson, with whom she is very close, is coping, she said. “My daughter-in-law is the most wonderful daughter-in-law. She’s everything.”
Thompson said a motorcycle remembrance ride, organized by Paul Hodgetts and Scott Southerland and launched Sept. 1, inspired her and her family to create their own special memorial.
Thompson, Carolyn Henderson and Ken’s father, also Ken Henderson, of Augusta, donated a granite bench in memory of those lost in the snowmobile accidents Dec. 30, 2012 — as well as to those who worked tirelessly to find them. The bench was placed in the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce park, near the lake, and dedicated Sept. 1. Thompson said she and others were very touched that Kate Braestrup, chaplain of the warden service, and Warden Lt. Kevin Adam, attended.
Thompson says the message on the back of the bench says it all and is as strong a message as it was a year ago:
“Many, many thanks to the Maine Warden Service, The Rangeley Community, and to all for your support and dedication.”