CONWAY — Allan Clark Wednesday recalled clearly the grueling and grim North Country search two years ago this month for what a team of rescuers assembled from many units across New Hampshire feared would not have a positive ending.
They became more convinced with the passing days that any discovery they made would probably not yield the live little girl who had been missing for a week.
But Clark recalled something else from that search, something positive amid the exhaustion and horror. It was what he had come over the years to expect: the steady hand, calm manner and friendly professionalism of New Hampshire Fish and Game conservation Sgt. Brian Abrams of Center Conway.
There's much reflection around the state this week on the life and contributions of the 49-year-old sergeant who had been on the job for more than 22 years.
Abrams crashed his new Harley-Davidson motorcycle Sunday afternoon in a single-vehicle accident on a steep hill in Wolfeboro. He sustained a head injury, and died about 48 hours later at Maine Medical Center in Portland, surrounded by his family. He leaves his wife, Mary Ann, and the couple's two daughters, Sierra 11, and Shannon, 8.
"On behalf of the men and women of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, we express our deepest sympathies to Brian's family," Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau said late Wednesday in a news release.
"We are profoundly saddened by this sudden loss. Sgt. Abrams' dedication to duty and service to the citizens and visitors of our great state for more than two decades has been nothing short of extraordinary," he said.
Abrams spent his entire career at the District Two office in New Hampton where his patrol area included Conway, Bartlett and Jackson. He joined Fish and Game as a conservation officer in 1990.
Clark, president of Pemigewasset Valley Search & Rescue in Franconia was correct, sadly in 2011. The mission to find 11-year-old Celina Cass of West Stewartstown did indeed become a recovery, rather than a rescue. It ended when her body was found in the Connecticut River not far from her home. The murder remains unsolved.
"That was a particularly tough search," he said, but knowing Abrams was there helped the team considerably.
"It was extremely difficult terrain, thick growth and a 12-hour day. We were cut up and beat up, and we knew we weren't going to find her alive. But Brian was the same as always. He was upbeat and positive. He set up a 'headquarters' on the back of a pickup truck, and thanked each one of us for our help. He was always very appreciative. He was a big promoter of using the volunteer searchers," Clark said.
Abrams was an assistant team leader on the Advanced Search and Rescue Team and was a member of Fish and Game's dive team.
Clark, who's also Sugar Hill's fire chief, said most search and rescue efforts are not as grim as the effort to find Celina, and there's usually an easy camaraderie, even fun, among team members, many of whom have known one another for decades.
"In a weird way, it is kind of fun. It's hard to explain, unless you're doing it. But Brian, in a carry-out, he'd make sure it was fun. And he'd include the poor victim. We're not carrying a bag of potatoes, but he had a way of really taking the edge off.
"Whatever you were doing, anytime you ran into him, you were glad; you knew things were going to go well. He was very competent," Clark said.
In 2003, Abrams was honored with Fish and Game's Life Saving Award and the New Hampshire Congressional Law Enforcement Above and Beyond the Call of Duty award for saving the life of a cross-country skier in hazardous weather conditions.
After hiking more than eight miles into the backcountry facing high winds, deep snow and temperatures plummeting to 34 degrees below zero, Abrams located the injured skier well after dark and cared for him through the night. The man undoubtedly would not have survived without Abrams' assistance, Fish and Game administrators said in the release.
"Brian was a highly decorated officer who dedicated himself to the rescue of others and serving the sportsmen and women of New Hampshire," Major Kevin Jordan, Fish and Game Assistant Chief of Law Enforcement, added.
"Brian's quiet confidence, strong work ethic, professionalism and compassion for others are all traits that will be greatly missed by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department family," he said.
Memorial donations may go directly to any TD Bank branch for the Sergeant Brian Abrams Memorial Fund, according to Fish and Game administrators.
To mail donations, make checks payable to the Sergeant Brian Abrams Memorial Fund, N.H. Fish and Game Department, Law Enforcement Division, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord 03301.
The cause of Sunday's accident remains under investigation. Plans for services on Saturday had not been completed Wednesday.