On Jan. 17, my 13-year-old daughter Jolie didn’t come home.
Earlier in the day, she and her best friend, Julia, had been ice-skating on a nearby lake on Mount Desert Island, Maine, home to Acadia National Park. By 5 p.m., it was snowing, night had fallen, and I was frantic with worry. Julia’s mom and I determined that the girls had gone snowmobiling with Eli, Julia’s dad. There wasn’t a trace of them other than Ski-Doo snowmobile tracks pointed toward the center of the lake now shrouded in inky darkness.
We called emergency services. Within the hour a massive search-and-rescue operation was underway, joined by local volunteer fire departments and the Maine Warden Service.
Around 6:45 p.m., we received confirmation that the snowmobile tracks ended in open water. It was virtually certain that the three of them had plunged through the ice. The temperature was now 24 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping.
Shortly after 8 p.m., we received news that made me weep with relief: Jolie, Julia, and Eli had been located on a cliff near the lake. Four hours after their icy crash, their clothes still sopping, they were hypothermic but clinging to life. The firefighters carefully extracted all three from the treacherous site, and all made a full recovery.
When I started thinking about ways to somehow repay the first responders for their dedication and bravery, it seemed to me a thank you letter wouldn’t cut it. I sent one anyway but also offered to visit the firehouses and make portraits of the firefighters as my gift to them and their loved ones—a small thanks for my immeasurable gratitude.
Rogier van Bakel, of Eager Eye Photography, is a wedding and portrait photographer in Bar Harbor, Maine.