Austin man dies kayaking on Lake SuperiorPublished 9:55am Thursday, June 9, 2011
By STEVE KUCHERARoy
A kayaking trip by four college friends in the Apostle Islands turned tragic Tuesday when waves put two paddlers in the water and one of them, a 20-year-old man from Austin, Minn., died.
Authorities identified the man who died as Kevin Dammen. The other three were Kevin’s brother, Kyle Dammen, 20, of Austin; Grant Schlicter, 21, of Winona, Minn.; and Travis Hawley, 19, of Winona. All four are enrolled at Winona State University, according to their Facebook pages.
According to the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Office, the kayakers were paddling the two miles from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island. They reported having fairly calm water in the bay but encountered 4-foot waves outside the bay, Bayfield County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Clark said.
The area was under a small-craft advisory at the time, said Carol Christenson, warning coordination meteorologist for the Weather Service in Duluth. A measuring station in Port Wing — about
25 miles from the accident scene — recorded north-northeast winds of 25 mph gusting to 30 mph Tuesday.
“The peak wind was a 28.9-knot (33.2-mph) gust at 4:40 p.m.,” she said.
About two-thirds of the way to Sand Island one of the kayaks started taking on water in the waves. The kayak became submerged and the paddler left his boat. As the three other boaters turned around to help, Kevin Dammen’s kayak capsized. Dammen directed the two remaining kayakers to help the first person. They had him hang onto one of the boats and paddled to Sand Island. As they did, they lost sight of Dammen in the water.
Once the trio reached Sand Island, one kayaker returned to the mainland to call for help. The Bayfield County Communications Center received a 911 call reporting the missing man at 5:33 p.m. Emergency workers responded and began an air, water and shoreline search.
About 8 p.m., the U.S. Coast Guard found Dammen and began CPR. Dammen was transported to Little Sand Bay, where the Ashland paramedics and Life Link III medical crew, along with the Red Cliff Ambulance EMTs, continued unsuccessful resuscitation efforts.
The cause of death was hypothermia, according to the Bayfield County coroner. Kevin Dammen was wearing a blue life jacket and the bottom half of a wet suit. Authorities believe he tried to don the wet suit only after he entered the water. Dammen’s friends reported that, when they last saw him, he was wearing the life jacket, swim trunks and a T-shirt and was carrying the wet suit when he got under way.
The water temperature was about 47 degrees, authorities said. A person without a wet suit or dry suit in water that cold will become exhausted or unconscious in 30 to 60 minutes, according to U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force data. Expected survival time is one to three hours.
“Lake Superior is unforgiving,” Clark said. “The lake — in its warmest day — can still cause hypothermia in 30 minutes. I think people underestimate the power of the cold and the power of this majestic lake.”
The Coast Guard urges paddlers to dress for the water temperature and to wear a brightly colored life jacket to increase the chance of being found quickly following an accident. Chief Petty Officer James Robertson, officer-in-charge of Station Bayfield, said the boat crew saw Kevin Dammen only after they were close because his blue life jacket blended with the color of the water.
The Apostle Islands area has been the scene of several deaths or close calls involving paddlers who overestimated their skills, were unprepared or were caught by a change in the weather.
In September 2010, two kayakers became separated on the crossing from the mainland to Sand Island. One reached the island and called searchers when he couldn’t locate his partner, a 46-year-old man from Scandia, Minn. The man’s body was found in Justice Bay off Sand Island. He had died of hypothermia.
In June 2007, two kayakers capsized between Meyers Beach and the nearby mainland sea caves. A 55-year-old Brule man died and a 52-year-old South Range man was rescued and treated for hypothermia.
In August 2004, a 23-year-old St. Germain, Wis., man died of hypothermia after his kayak capsized in the caves near Meyers Beach.
In July 2005, 31 kayakers — girls from a Minnesota camp along with four camp counselors and four guides — were rescued after a line of intense thunderstorms and high winds swept through the area while they attempted to visit the caves from Meyers Beach.