Kayakers death from hypothermia a warning to all water users

Discussion in 'Frontpage News' started by Wisconsin DNR News, Oct 7, 2010.

  1. DNR Northern Region - SAND BAY, WI. --Despite having all the right high tech gear a kayaker ended up dying from hypothermia on Lake Superior in early September. When the rescuers found him the man was lying on a ...



    News Release Published: October 7, 2010 by the Northern Region

    Contact(s): Dave Oginski (715)685-2929

    SAND BAY, WI. --Despite having all the right high tech gear a kayaker ended up dying from hypothermia on Lake Superior in early September. When the rescuers found him the man was lying on a stretch of beach on Sand Island.

    “Even with all his good equipment he should not have been out on the water,” said Department of Natural Resources Conservation Warden, Amie Egstad, who was on the search and rescue team. “Apparently he and his partner had been warned about the big waves but they thought with all their gear they could make it.” Egstad said the two men had GPS units, neoprene wet suits, splash skirts, and other gear they believed could handle the waters of Lake Superior.

    They started out for Sand Island from Little Sand Bay together but in the rough water became separated and soon lost sight of each other. One man made it to Sand Island and fearing for the life of his friend called the US Coast Guard from a borrowed portable marine band radio..

    “When the National Park Service Rangers initially responded to the scene they reported 4-5’ seas and pretty much found the victim’s overturned kayak right away.,” Egstad said. “The wind continued into the night and then it began to rain hard so we had to call off the search for the night.”

    Somewhere between the time the men became separated and the rescue call came out the lost man’s boat had overturned. Despite the medium weight wet suit, the man’s body core temperature began to decrease in the 50 degree water.

    “We are not sure how long he had been in the water but it was long enough for hypothermia to set in and kill him,” Egstad explained. “We are unsure if he was able to hang onto his overturned kayak for awhile or if the kayak floated away right away due to the waves. We do recommend that people stay with their boat if at all possible so they have something to help keep them afloat as well as being easier to see for rescuers.”

    Hypothermia is a slow insidious killer that prevents the victim from being aware of his or her condition. It can occur any time situations, like cold water immersions, cause the 98 degree body temperature to begin falling. Water doesn't have to be real cold to cause hypothermia. Any water that's colder than normal body temperature causes heat loss. As the body temperature falls the victim’s thinking becomes confused. Without a gradual warm up the body temperature can fall low enough to cause death.

    “Obviously this is a tragic situation for all involved and the kayaking companion regrets their decision to go out that day, but this should be a learning lesson for everyone,” Egstad said. “Conditions on Lake Michigan and Superior can change rapidly causing survival issues for water recreationists and can make rescue nearly impossible.”

    Anyone attempting to go out on the Great Lakes should check the local weather conditions the warden said. She also offers the following tips for all water users especially this time of year when the water temperatures can often be fatal to those who fall in. Wear a life jacket because it provides floatation without using energy and it provides some insulation. Get out of the water if possible by either climbing onto the capsized boat or grabbing onto a floating object.

    Don't attempt to swim unless close to safety. Swimming uses up energy and may shorten survival time. Position your body to minimize heat loss. Use a body position known as the heat escape lessening position (HELP) to reduce heat loss while you wait for assistance. Hold your knees to your chest to protect the trunk of your body. If you're wearing a life jacket that turns your face down in this position, bring your legs tightly together, your arms to your sides and your head back. To help clothes provide insulation from the water, buckle, button and zip up shirts and jackets. Cover your head if possible. The layer of water between your clothing and your body will help insulate you. Remove clothing only after you're safely out of the water and can take measures to get dry and warm.

    Make sure you carry the essentials on your body in case you go in the water and can not hang onto your boat such as waterproof matches to start a fire if you are able to make it to shore. Also make sure your PFD is reflectorized and have some kind of strobe/light so rescuers can find you faster. These days there are GPS units out there such as handheld EPIRBS and BioSpot that will send out an emergency signal with your GPS locations so rescuers can find your exact location. If possible prepare a set of extra clothes, jacket, rain poncho and towel and put them in a waterproof “dry bag” and take it along on the trip. These dry clothes can often make a difference in a survival situation.

    “Warm autumn days can lure people out onto the water extending the fun summer season,” Egstad said, “but extra precautions have to be taken when water temperatures fall and winter like storms can blow up suddenly.”