AUBURN – Deputy David Rancourt, head of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s dive team, died Saturday morning while diving for evidence off the Veterans Bridge.

The dive, around 10 a.m., was part of a joint operation with the Sheriff’s Department and the Auburn Police Department. Officials refused to say what case they were investigating, or what the divers were seeking.

Rancourt, 40, was one of six divers searching the Androscoggin River. He was in cardiac arrest when members of his dive team took him from the water, according to a Sheriff’s Department news release Saturday night.

“He signaled that he needed some assistance,” Sheriff’s Capt. Ray LaFrance said during a news conference a few hours earlier. “They pulled him into the boat and started CPR.”

Rancourt was pronounced dead at Central Maine Medical Center.

The Maine Warden’s Service is investigating, and the sheriff’s department is conducting its own internal inquiry. Officials refused to speculate whether Rancourt died from natural causes, an accident or something else.

Rancourt served with the Sheriff’s Department for 10 years and was a rescue diver for five.

He was also a member of the Army Reserve’s 619th Transportation Company and served two tours in Iraq, one in each of the conflicts in the last 15 years. He returned from his most recent tour within the last year. He could have come home sooner, but he remained behind to help the troops who stayed to deal with equipment.

“As a leader, he chose to stay,” his wife, Dawn, told the Sun Journal in 2005. “That’s the kind of person he is.”

Rancourt retired from the Army a week ago, LaFrance said.

A popular member of the Sheriff’s Department, Rancourt’s death rocked the close-knit police community.

“We’re a small, family department,” LaFrance said. “Right now we’re all grieving. Including myself.”

All sheriff’s deputies were pulled from patrol duty Saturday, and counselors met with the divers, deputies and officers who were at the bridge during the incident. Auburn, Lewiston and state police officers planned to take over patrols through today, though all emergency calls will be handled normally.

Counseling will continue for any police officer who needs it.

“He was a very dedicated individual. Dedicated to his country, dedicated to the department. He was a very good officer. One of the best,” LaFrance said as he welled up with tears. “He was also a personal friend of mine, and I’ll miss him dearly.”

Rancourt lived in Leeds with his wife and 8-year-old son. His wife, a former member of the Lewiston Police Department, is pregnant with their second child, friends said.

//Staff writer Mark LaFlamme contributed to this report.//

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