AUGUSTA — Police and other agencies spent Saturday afternoon looking for a woman, described as being about 50 with reddish-brown hair and dark clothing, who disappeared under the ice on the Kennebec River near Kennebec Plaza on Willow Street.

Augusta police Sgt. Vicente Morris said the dispatch center received eight calls about 1 p.m. about someone in a black jacket standing on the ice on the east side of the river.

“Officers went down and were able to see her standing by the open water,” Morris said. “They threw a rope, but unfortunately, she went under the ice.”

Gloria Labbe and Judy Bourget, residents of Kennebec Plaza on Willow Street, said they witnessed what happened.

Labbe said someone asked to use her cellphone to call 911 because a woman was on the ice. Labbe looked out a window of Kennebec Plaza and saw a woman walking around on the river ice and talking on a cellphone.

“She turned around, looked at us, laid the phone down on the ice and then went in,” Labbe said. “She did not fall.”

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Labbe said the woman went underwater first, then held on to the ice for a while.

“By that time, rescue was here. They threw her a buoy, and she pushed it away and went under the ice,” Labbe said.

Both women said the act appeared deliberate.

Bourget said, “She walked to the edge and jumped in.”

“It’s hard enough to hear about that, but when you actually see it right in front of you, it’s terrifying,” Labbe said.

The Maine Marine Patrol was called, as were divers from the Maine Warden Service and the Kennebec Sheriff’s Office.

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However, because of dangerous conditions, divers were not used.

Sgt. Daniel White, of the Maine Marine Patrol, said one of the agency’s planes was searching the river from above, and Maine Game Wardens from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife wardens had an airboat on the river briefly to aid in the search.

White said conditions made the search particularly difficult.

“With the amount of current coming down through, there’s a very small area of open water that’s condensing onto this ice, which is creating a large current in the area,” White said, adding that the incident remains under investigation.

Police are seeking the identity of the woman as well, although Morris said that could take some time — until the body is recovered or someone is reported missing.

By 5 p.m. Saturday, the search appeared to be suspended for the day.

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Staff photographer Joe Phelan contributed to this report.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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