After tragedy, Westborough resident’s legacy lives on through efforts of foundation

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Foundation raises funds to prevent future accidents on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesauke

Mark O’Connell’s daughters Shannon O’Connell (l) and Kara Bouchard with the hovercraft.

By Kate Tobiasson, Contributing Writer

Westborough – Two years ago, unusual weather conditions led to difficult conditions on Lake Winnipesauke during the annual Great Rotary Fishing Derby in Meredith, N.H.  Dear friends Mark O’Connell, Dave Crosier and Steven Weiss, all of Westborough, were enjoying the lake on their snowmobiles, and decided to travel down the lake to check the leaderboard. O’Connell and Crosier both fell through the ice while snowmobiling, and lost their lives. Weiss walked away from the tragedy. Sadly, these two deaths, along with another on the lake later in the day, may have been prevented if the Lakes Region was able to secure more equipment and training. At the time, there was only one airboat on the lake, patrolling over 71 square miles. It simply wasn’t enough.

“When my dad and his friend Dave Crosier passed two years ago during the fishing derby, we learned that the lake lacked equipment that would be ideal for any rescue scenario. Within a few weeks of the accident, my family decided that we wanted to do something,” said Kara Bouchard, Mark O’Connell’s daughter. “We decided to create the foundation to raise funds for the hovercraft, and also safety equipment and trainings for the first responders in the Winnipesaukee lake area.”

It takes real tenacity and love to turn a loss of a family member into such a wonderful initiative for the lakes community.

Recently, warmer temperatures created dangerous conditions on the lake, similar to those the men experienced.

“It is hard to tell what the ice is really like on days like the guys were out because of varying conditions,” said Moultonborough Fire Chief David Bengston, carefully explaining the dangers of the lakes area. “In the past there have been years when there were multiple deaths throughout the winter; every year there are multiple instances where vehicles fall through the ice.”

In these dangerous conditions, the rescue departments need special vehicles that can travel across water and ice, so that they can reach victims. On Jan. 31, The Mark O’Connell Foundation donated a much needed Air Rider Hovercraft AR45 Search and Rescue to the Moultonborough Fire and Rescue Department on Lake Winnipesaukee.

“As we were thinking about what type of equipment would be ideal, we considered what year-round equipment would help with rescues across the lake. We decided on the hovercraft because it can go over water, ice, and rocky areas that pop up throughout the lake. It is helpful in all four seasons,” explained Bouchard. “The hovercraft can easily glide over these areas, and go into coves and other difficult rescue areas.”

Bengston noted, “We have trainings scheduled throughout the year. We just did a training last night Tuftenborough. Previous to the purchase of the hovercraft, they had the only airboat in the area. The town of Alton also just received a donation of an airboat. They’ve had it reconditioned and outfitted with emergency equipment to help with rescues.”

The foundation is nothing short of success. They have run several “Celebrate Everything” t-shirt campaigns, and is starting The Annual Dave Crosier and Mark O’Connell Golf Classic. Their first tournament will be held at Highfields in Grafton on Thursday, June 20. Thanks to the generous support of Westborough and the lakes community, the foundation was able to raise the $70,000 needed for the hovercraft and trainings in two short years. While Moultonborough had plans down the road to purchase more equipment, this foundation has sped up the process and helped them to expand their efforts.

“We were up there for the annual pond hockey tournament in Meredith Bay last week. The Moultonborough department was out training, and they brought the new hovercraft by. My sister, Shannon, and I got to go out for a spin on the hovercraft; it was bittersweet,” smiled Bouchard.

Mirroring Bouchard’s sentiments, Bengston added, “The Mark O’Connell Foundation really is bittersweet. It is creating a benefit for our department and the Lake Region from the tragedy that occurred. I’ve spoken with the family a few times throughout the last couple of years. Their work exemplifies the type of family that they have, and who their father was. It is clear that he passed those values onto them- they are working to create an environment where people can enjoy the lake as much as they do and their father did. We are extremely grateful that the foundation has entrusted us with a very valuable piece of rescue equipment and the chance to expand our rescue efforts.”

To donate to the foundation visit TheMarkOConnellFoundation.com.

Photos/courtesy Shannon O’Connell

Mark O’Connell (left) and Dave Crosier in front with friends Johnny and Steve.
The Air Rider Hovercraft AR45 Search and Rescue that the foundation donated to the Moultonborough Fire and Rescue Department.