Wildlife worker dies trying to save bird Canoe capsizes en route to loon

January 02, 1994|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Staff Writer

A rescue mission to save a loon trapped in an icy pond took the life of a state wildlife employee last week.

The accident occurred Wednesday in the state's coldest county, Garrett in Western Maryland, on a day when the wind chill was about minus 40.

Edwin A. Lewis, 38, of Oakland attempted the rescue by canoe even though he was a maintenance mechanic.

The canoe capsized. Mr. Lewis was in the water for slightly more than 30 minutes and died later at a hospital.

He was the first Maryland wildlife worker to die in the line of duty since a man was crushed by a falling tree 20 years ago in Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany County, authorities said.

Wednesday's accident occurred at a farm pond along U.S. 50 east of Redhouse, according to Randy Shaffer of the Garrett County sheriff's office.

Mr. Lewis worked for the state Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division, which had received more than 100 telephone calls about loons that had landed and become stranded because their wings were affected by the frigid weather.

The birds, which migrate from Canada to Southern states, live most of their lives in the water, and they require a clear space in which to take off.

Mr. Lewis, a 15-year veteran who was working alone at the Mount Nebo office while other workers celebrated the holidays, was called out to a private farm on Tuesday.

A loon had been trapped in a pond there for several days; the bird was so encircled by ice that it couldn't get into the air.

The next day, Mr. Lewis returned alone with a canoe and began the rescue attempt at about 3:30 p.m., authorities reported.

At 4:05 p.m., Charles Layman Jr. was passing the pond, spotted Mr. Lewis and pulled him out.

Authorities said Mr. Lewis was taken to Garrett Memorial Hospital but his body temperature had plunged so far that doctors were unable to save him.

He was pronounced dead at 11:30 p.m.

Mr. Lewis is divorced and has a 9-year-old son who lives with his mother.

According to the wildlife division, there is no policy requiring workers to have an assistant during such a rescue.

Mr. Lewis and other wildlife employees had been involved in several loon rescues before the accident.

"He was such a dedicated employee," said Patty Manown, a spokeswoman for the division.

"He was bound and determined to get the bird out."

Mr. Lewis never reached the loon.

On Friday the bird was still in the pond, and authorities said they knew of no further rescue plans.

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