ANDOVER —Two teenagers used survival skills and a shooting star to stay alive Monday night into Tuesday morning after getting lost trying to ride a snowmobile from Mexico to Andover.

Ty Howard-Gotto, 15, and his friend Jonah May, 15, both from North Smithfield, R.I., walked out of the woods and onto South Arm Road at about 10 a.m. Tuesday, Wardens Sgt. Kris Barboza and Josh Smith said. A passerby picked them up and drove them to Howard-Gotto’s grandfather’s camp at 225 South Arm Road in Andover.

That’s where they were headed when they left Highland Terrace at about 7:30 p.m. Monday in Mexico on a snowmobile. They were expected to arrive at 10 p.m. Monday and when they didn’t, the Maine Warden Service was alerted late Tuesday night by family members. Neither boy had a cell phone, Smith said.

Howard-Gotto was driving an orange 2007 Arctic Cat Crossfire snowmobile when it became stuck in deep snow on an unimproved trail that wasn’t groomed, Warden Smith said.

According to an Associated Press story on Tuesday, the boys tried unsuccessfully to start a fire late Monday when May saw a shooting star, made a wish and suggested they continue walking. Then they found a shed and material to start a fire, Howard-Gotto said after they were found unharmed.

For the fire, they used plywood and gasoline from the boarded-up structure to get warm, and then spent part of the evening wrapped in tarps and resting in a golf cart inside the structure, Howard-Gotto said.

The temperature dipped to 9 degrees below zero in the region, and the wind made it feel like 25 below, the AP story said. At first daylight, the boys began walking again until they were found.

It’s not unusual for teenagers to ride snowmobiles in Western Maine without an accompanying adult, Warden Smith said. Howard-Gotto grew up in the area and knew the trails but had been living in Rhode Island, he said.

It’s roughly a 20-mile trip between Mexico and the grandfather’s camp, depending on which way one goes, Smith said. “It’s about a two-hour ride to get up there.”

Howard-Gotto said he made a wrong turn after departing from Mexico, then got stuck in deep snow. But he said he’d lived in the area before moving to Rhode Island and was confident they would be OK.
 
“I wasn’t worried too much,” he said.

The warden service was alerted at 11:45 p.m. Monday that the boys were missing. Smith and Wardens Tony Gray and Brock Clukey drove to the area to begin a hasty search. Smith said the temperature was 26 below zero. “I was a human popsicle,” he said.

The wardens knew roughly where the youths were, because they received a tip that a snowmobile club groomer out smoothing trails had seen them at 8:30 p.m. near Ellis Pond Variety in Roxbury Pond Village, Barboza said.

“We had an idea where they were,” he said. “We also got a few other tips, but they were earlier sightings.”

Barboza said wardens were worried that the boys might have gone through thin ice covered with snow in a brook or stream as inlets into ponds don’t have thick ice.

The three wardens searched through the night and were joined in the morning by more searchers, including area firefighters, police and snowmobile club members.

“The mother from Rhode Island asked us if we were going to use dogs, but we did a hasty search,” Smith said. “We were looking for an orange snowmobile on snow, so that would stand out.”

Additionally, warden service pilot Charlie Later was flying over the rugged terrain with Warden Norm Lewis, who knows the area, Barboza said. Wardens on the ground checking trails would radio Later and tell them what areas to search.

Warden service Cpl. John MacDonald said that when Howard-Gotto missed a turn, he crossed Devil’s Den Road, which leaves South Arm and Black Brook roads southeast of Sawyer Mountain.

The two boys proceeded west on a groomed trail, heading toward the Sawyer Notch area, wardens said. Then, they took the South Sawyer Trail, which the wardens said is currently not maintained, and got their snowmobile stuck halfway between Devil’s Den Road and the Black Cat Road, below Richardson Lake. 

Mexico Trail Blazers Snowmobile Club President Nick Brown said Tuesday afternoon in Mexico that the trail could have been groomed but high winds that blasted the area on Sunday and all day and into the night on Monday would have created deep drifts.

“After all that wind and snow, it would have turned any trail into high drifts, and once you get a sled stuck in one, that’s it, especially these newer and bigger sleds,” Brown said.

At first, Barboza said the boys tried soaking a sock in gasoline to get a fire started at the snowmobile, but that did not work.

Then, “they walked a considerable distance to the Black Cat Road and made it down to the shore of Richardson Lake where they found a shed on the lake shore and a (motor cart) that had fresh gas in it,” MacDonald said.

Howard-Gotto told wardens they were able to start a fire on the shore of the lake, using gas from the motor cart.  After getting warmed up they both slept in the motor cart for the rest of the night. 

When they awakened Tuesday morning, the two walked across the south end of Richardson Lake to the South Arm Road, where they were picked up by a passerby at about 10 a.m., Warden Smith said.

Barboza and Smith said the boys did the right thing by staying where they were, getting a fire going to warm up and hunkering down until daylight. They were also dressed in appropriate winter sled gear. Nick Brown agreed.

“They did good and they were definitely dressed for it,” Brown said.

Neither boy showed signs of hypothermia, nor were they injured, Barboza said. But, they were hungry, he said May told his mother.

Barboza said the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Facebook site played a key role in getting the word out quickly about the missing boys. The alert was spread rapidly once it was put up, and quickly surpassed 10,000 shares.

“Our Facebook site helped spread the word quickly,” he said. “Not everybody has the news on TV, but many people have mobile phones and use Facebook. It gets the word out instantly. Luckily, the boys were wearing the same snowmobile clothes they were wearing in the picture we put up. That helped.”

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MEXICO — The Maine Warden Service is looking for two Rhode Island teenagers who went missing Monday evening while snowmobiling from Mexico to Andover, Cpl. John MacDonald said Tuesday morning.

MacDonald said that Ty-Howard-Gotto, 15, and his friend Jonah May, 15, from North Smithfield, R.I., had left Highland Terrace in Mexico at approximately 7:30 p.m. Monday and were due to arrive at 10 p.m. at their grandfather’s camp, located at 225 South Arm Road in Andover.

Neither boy arrived at the camp, MacDonald said.

“The boys were riding an orange 2007 Arctic Cat Crossfire snowmobile,” MacDonald said. “Game wardens are asking anyone who might have been in that area on snowmobile or otherwise to recall if the boys were seen.”

If anyone has any information, call the Gray public safety dispatch center at 657-3030.


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