WESTPORT — Pitch black, the depths of Lake Champlain challenge search-and-rescue divers.
A recreational jump off the cliffs at Champlain Palisades turned tragic last weekend, mobilizing divers from Port Henry Volunteer Fire Department and State Police to an underwater search effort for Michael Mindell that spanned more than two days.
The dispatch call to Port Henry’s dive team came in at 5:33 p.m. last Saturday.
Police Chief Jim Hughes was at a wedding reception when someone tapped him on the shoulder, describing briefly what happened.
Mindell, 39, had jumped from a 150-foot cliff into the water and had not resurfaced.
The Port Henry Fire Department mobilized. Hughes, Fire Capt. Robert DeFelice and Third Assistant Chief Ron Van Slooten got their gear and loaded the rescue boat.
Two of the company’s firefighters, Lt. Phil Smith and William Blood, manned the vessel; both are trained resuscitation personnel, Hughes said.
Another 10 firefighters stood by at the docks as they left port. The rescue boat was underway within 20 minutes.
The water was choppy that afternoon, pushing through 1-foot swells. It took about 20 minutes to reach the Palisades Cliffs, north of Westport Marina.
Westport Hose Company firefighters had set a lake-surface perimeter around the area where the man had jumped in, Hughes said.
And crews in a boat from the U.S. Coast Guard arrived from Burlington to oversee the rescue effort.
Motorboat traffic through the Narrows remained busy, with fast, high-performance boats pushing wide wakes against the rescue area.
The Narrows marks the region where the thin lower stretch of Lake Champlain opens into the broad lake, flowing north.
There is an underwater corridor there, dropping 400 feet deep in the middle.
Initial dives focused on the wall, Hughes said of their strategy, working in shifts, rotating, with two divers below and one at the water’s surface at all times.