In my last article, I mentioned rescuing two fellow wardens from Carlton Bog in Troy, when they found themselves up the creek without a paddle.

That rather humorous situation had a happy ending. Little did I realize a week later I’d be called to two other area water rescues. One proved to be successful, although barely, while the other was a real tragedy.

I received a phone call early Oct. 16, 1981, from a member of the Unity Fire Department asking if I planned on coming to the search on Unity Pond.

“What search,” I blankly asked, completely unaware of any such thing.

“You didn’t know,” he asked, sounding surprised. “We have a missing boater on Unity Pond. The call came in late last night and you were on a day off. Another warden came to assist us, but he left after only a couple of hours. He stated you’d be coming on in the morning and that you’d make contact with us. He felt as though we’d done all we could for the night.”

“I just assumed he’d called you,” he disgustedly sputtered.

“This is the first I’ve heard about it, but I’ll be over just as soon as I get dressed,” I said. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been called the previous night and given a heads up on the situation – an obvious miscommunication somewhere along the line.

The day before, Oct. 15, began as a warm Indian summer day. Temperatures were far above normal for the time of year and the Rev. Richard Woehr, 45, of Unity, decided it would be a great afternoon for a season-end sail before stowing away his small sailboat for the winter.

As so often happens in cases such as this, he failed to tell anyone of his intentions before  venturing onto the lake around 4 p.m.

Little did he know, it almost became his last sail ever.

His wife returned home later that evening. She knew her husband had planned to attend a church meeting, so when he wasn’t there she wasn’t overly concerned, figuring he was at his meeting.

It wasn’t until 11:30 p.m. when he still was not home that she began to worry.

She then noticed the small sailboat was missing from their front porch. She hurried down to the pond, where she found his car parked in the normal spot he used when he went sailing. Only then did she realize he was in danger – grave danger.

We learned later from the Rev. Woehr that during the afternoon the wind suddenly switched direction when the temperatures plummeted. The rapid change was typical of our constantly fluctuating New England weather pattern.

The reverend started back across the lake, tacking into the wind hoping to reach his destination in the stiff breeze. But the change in wind direction carried him farther and farther away from his intended destination. He realized he wasn’t going to reach his vehicle.

Suddenly, a large gust of wind hit the small craft, turning it over and dumping him into the cool water. The Rev. Woehr desperately searched for his life jacket inside the submerged boat, but couldn’t find it. By then, it was after 5 in the afternoon. The sun was setting and the wind continued to howl.

In October, few people occupy the camps along the shoreline, and his calls for help went unanswered.

Grabbing hold of the boat’s flotation pad and placing it firmly beneath him, he attempted to swim back toward shore, which was quite some distance away. The high wind and waves battled his every stroke.

He realized he could never make it under those conditions. Returning to the boat as a last resort, he barely managed to climb on top of the bottom of the capsized craft. Numbness and fear were overtaking the pastor.

The Rev. Woehr said his faith in God simultaneously provided him with a sudden burst of inner strength and a sense of calmness. He felt as though he’d temporarily been saved from his own demise.

He considered diving under the boat to retrieve a paddle, but he knew if he tried he wouldn’t have enough strength left to climb back on the overturned boat. He was mentally drained and physically strapped as he sat astride the half-submerged sailboat for the rest of the night.

A search was initiated in the wee morning hours, but searchers remained far away from where the sailboat bounced, upside down, in the windswept waves.

The distraught minister was unable to draw attention to his plight. He realized he was at the mercy of the Almighty and a whole lot of luck.

For the searchers, it was difficult to know where to start. After all, the pond was more than 6 miles long and quite wide. There was just a slim chance of finding the missing man in the black of night, as he bobbed up and down in the waves and fought a howling wind.

It was hoped that daylight at least would give searchers a better chance, but many rescuers feared the worst.

“I was tempted to end the bitter cold and suffering by just slipping over the side of the boat and giving up,” the Rev. Woehr recalled. “A thousand things went through my mind. Being a preacher, I did a lot of praying, not in desperation, but just plain talking to him.”

“I kept telling myself to hang on just a little while longer,” he said. “I was trying to stay alive.”

When I arrived at Unity Pond that next morning, the searchers had just spotted the sailboat at the far end of the lake and were heading toward it. The Rev. Woehr was still clinging to it, barely able to speak and completely unable to move his legs.

An ambulance met us on a nearby camp road at the far end of the lake. We carried the reverend to a waiting stretcher for some much-needed medical attention. His body temperature was 6 degrees higher than what hospital staff considered fatal.

Immediately, warm saline solution and heated oxygen were administered to him, and he was whisked to the hospital where he remained for a few days, fortunate to be alive.

In this case, by the grace of God and a lot of luck, the Rev. Woehr lived to tell about his ordeal.

Little did I expect the very next day, Oct. 17, 1981, I’d be called to yet another search involving a 23-year-old duck hunter who’d left his Burnham home late in the afternoon. He was dressed in warm clothes and was wearing hip waders. His plan was to hunt along the nearby Sebasticook River.

The young man was healthy and very woods-wise, according to his family. And, unlike the day before, at least we had some indication of where to start searching.

Late that evening, after he failed to return home, family and friends organized a small search party of their own before calling authorities. A few members of that crew had obviously been drinking and chose to handle the matter themselves.

It wasn’t until late in the evening when myself, Warden Norm Gilbert and Scott Sienkiewicz were the first authorities to arrive on the scene. The members of the private search party voiced opinions about where we should go and what should be done next. To say it was total chaos would be putting it mildly.

As usual, a number of volunteer firemen rallied to provide expertise and total cooperation. Teams of experienced men were formed and sent to specific spots.

They knew where and how to search with a sense of organization, much to the disgruntlement of the few boisterous drinkers watching from afar. A few of these folks appeared to thoroughly despise game wardens and any and all other forms of authority.

Later, teams reported back one by one to the command post. The effort to that point had proven futile. But the search continued.

Suddenly, word came from downstream that one of the inebriated searchers who had gone off on his own had found the missing young man. According to messages being halfheartedly relayed through the thick woods, the missing young man had a broken leg and needed to be transported back to the main road.

Immediately, I requested the Clinton ambulance be dispatched to the area, and I requested that a crew assemble to assist with carrying the young man out of the woods.

Sadly, this report was nothing more than a vicious rumor concocted by a couple of individuals who had been drinking and didn’t care for the way things were being conducted.

The family members who had been notified that their loved one was OK hurried to the command post hoping for the best. I was forced to tell them the good news was a sick rumor, started by a couple of drunks seeking a little attention.

I never found out who played the evil prank – and probably that was a good thing. Without a doubt, any professionalism I was trying to maintain would have rather quickly gone out the window.

I’m surprised there wasn’t a lynching by people who gathered to locate the pranksters. Something told me there might have been a little poetic justice in the wind had they found them. Tempers were hot and the mood was ripe for an all-out brawl if we continued.

By then, it was quite obvious that any additional attempts to locate the young man during the middle of the night would be fruitless and futile. Any sense of organization had completely disappeared, thanks to those who had chosen to derail the effort.

The search was suspended until daybreak. It was hoped that cooler heads and minds would prevail, and we would also be able to see where we were going for a change.

I barely slept that night; I wanted to throttle the people who had played such a horrible hoax on the victim’s family members who were suffering bad enough as it was. It truly can be a sick world we live in at times, and this was one of those times.

The next day, the body of young Tim Rice was discovered submerged in a deep pool of water a short distance downstream from his home. Apparently, he shot a duck that fell into the deep pool. As Tim waded in to retrieve his cache, the water filled his chest waders and dragged him down, making it impossible for him to swim.

His lifeless body was transported to the main highway, where a somber crowd of family, friends and searchers watched as it was placed inside a hearse.

I hoped somewhere in that crowd of onlookers were the drunken men who the night before had so stupidly created false hope and additional pain for an already distraught family, simply because they wanted to have a fun and generate attention for themselves.

I doubt they’d recognize their own sins, nor would they feel any guilt. Folks in that state of mind never do; their own undoings are always someone else’s fault.

Strangely, during one week in October I responded to three water-related searches and rescues. One was rather humorous, one was extremely lucky, and the final one was a real tragedy.

They all provided yet another cluster of memories for the diaries. I only wish they’d all have been humorous, but unfortunately in this line of work, the good often comes with the bad, and sometimes the damn right ugly.

These diary memories included bits of all three.