HARTLAND — Two men escaped injury Monday evening when a Cessna 180 plane with floats bounced off a wave and was hit by a gust of wind, causing it to flip upside down and crash into the middle of Great Moose Lake in Hartland, officials said.

The pilot and passenger were rescued from their perch on the belly of the aircraft, which remained upside down in the water.

The pilot, Kenneth Comfort, 53, of Palmyra, was landing the aircraft about a half mile into the lake just before 6:40 p.m. when it turned over, trapping him and his passenger, Thad Rines, 27, upside down in their seats, secured by seatbelts, Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Jackson said at the scene. The two men freed themselves and took refuge on the pontoons of the plane.

A good Samaritan in a pontoon boat came to the men’s rescue, getting close enough to the aircraft to transfer them to the boat, Jackson said. The plane was then towed to a point about 60 feet from the town boat landing off Great Moose Road, where the men were met by rescue crews. They were treated at the scene by Sebasticook Valley Ambulance workers and released, Jackson said.

Jackson said Comfort and Rines were not injured but were very cold after being in the frigid water. He said Rines had been working on Comfort’s nearby camp earlier in the day. The men were lucky not to have been injured, according to Jackson.

“It was the best case scenario for crashing a plane,” he said.

At dusk Monday, State Department of Environmental Protection employees were at the scene, evaluating the airplane for possible spillage of fuel before it could be brought closer to the town landing for mooring or removal.

Hartland and Canaan firefighters worked at the scene warm breeze wafted in off the lake. Hartland Fire Chief Tim Kuespert said he was the first emergency official to arrive at the boat landing after the crash.

“They were out sitting on the pontoons by the time I got here,” Kuespert said of Comfort and Rines. “They were cold and shivering and nervous — worked up.”

According to the sheriff’s department, Comfort had about 20 years experience as a pilot. Strong gusty wind was reported at the time of the accident.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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