Two sea kayakers die from exposure after being overturned in Dungeness Bay

Posted 4/13/15

The tragic death of two sea kayakers April 11 on Dungeness Bay in Clallam County is a reminder of how being unprepared for sudden weather changes can prove fatal.

Seven people in seven sea kayaks …

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Two sea kayakers die from exposure after being overturned in Dungeness Bay

Posted

The tragic death of two sea kayakers April 11 on Dungeness Bay in Clallam County is a reminder of how being unprepared for sudden weather changes can prove fatal.

Seven people in seven sea kayaks were on a recreational paddle Saturday, April 11 on Dungeness Bay, a trip organized by the Mountain View Church of the Nazarene in Tumwater, Washington. The Dungeness Spit trip means paddling about three miles out to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, and three miles back to the main boat launch. It is considered a trip suitable for beginning paddlers.

After a morning paddle and a lunch break near the lighthouse, the weather turned rainy and windy as the group was returning to shore. Three of the kayakers were overturned from their craft, with water temperatures in that area this time of year being in the high 40s.

All three were eventually rescued, but not until each spent an estimated two hours in the cold water. Two of the three died while receiving medical treatment.

Although their sea kayaks were apparently equipped with storm skirts and pumps, and everyone on the outing had on a personal flotation device, none of the victims were wearing clothing to help them withstand being in the water.

"Wearing a drysuit will greatly increase your chances of surviving in this water," said Jeff Gearhart, a search and rescue controller at Sector Puget Sound.

The victims are Jacob Austin, 52, of Lacey, who died Saturday at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles; and Mandi Walkley, 39 of Chehalis who died Saturday night at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.

The weather Saturday morning seemed OK for the kayak trip, according to organizers. However, the Clallam County Sheriff's Office noted that a weather advisory had been posted April 10 calling for windy weather conditions on April 11.

Rescuers reported the weather on scene as 35 mph winds and 3-foot high seas.

Rescue operations began when U.S. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound watchstanders received a report from an individual at the New Dungeness Lighthouse of a possible kayaker in distress around 2:42 p.m. Saturday, April 11. A Response Boat-Medium crew from Coast Guard Station Port Angeles, and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, were launched in response.

The Dolphin helicopter crew arrived on scene to find the 50-year-old kayaker alone in the water. Using their rescue swimmer, they hoisted the kayaker and then transported him to Port Angeles where he was transferred to emergency medical personnel at Olympic Medical Center. William D. Kelley of Lacey on April 13 was listed in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The RB-M crew recovered a 52-year-old kayaker and transferred him to Clallam County emergency medical personnel at the John Wayne Marina in Sequim, who transported him to Olympic Medical Center.

Sector Puget Sound watchstanders requested assistance from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island personnel, who launched an HH-60 Seahawk helicopter crew. They recovered the 39-year-old kayaker and transported her to Olympic Medical Center.

The Coast Guard reminds people to check National Weather Service reports before taking to the open water in any small boat, and to dress according to the weather and water temperature.

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