Lake Michigan takes another life

This article

The above news article gets it the least wrong, so far, of all the online news reports. Her dad did not make it out to her kayak, as is stated he did in the article. That was me who did that.

It was a beautiful but iffy day on the beach, weatherwise. Sun was warm, the water was calm as glass, and in the low 60’s for a temperature. Kids had been splashing in the clear, shallow water between shore and sandbar, a 40-60 foot wide stretch with water no deeper than 2 feet. Some had little inner tubes, and the neighbor’s mini-kayak (not much more than a toy, really) had been brought out.

The one concern was the wind; 30 mph, and gusting higher from the west. The winds kept the water calm near shore, but would make for rough chop further out. But close to shore, blocked by trees and houses, the wind didn’t seem nearly that strong.

My wife and I had just walked down to the water’s edge from our house at about 5 PM, when a young boy approached us, upset, asking for help. His sister had been playing in the shallows near show in the little mini-kayak, but had drifted out a bit and then in moments been caught by the wind and blown out into the lake in the kayak. The dad was trying to get out to her, but she was too far out. She was still in the kayak at that point, according to her family.

I grabbed our neighbor’s canoe (glad they left it out!!). I knew it was not a good situation, I could see the kayak from shore, and it was getting pushed out real fast, it was at least a quarter of a mile out at that time, maybe more. I figured I could get to the kid faster than the rescue boats, since 911 had just been called and it’d take a while to mobilize the rescue. So I set out, with a paddle and a canoe, and no life vest. That would have taken minutes to obtain, and I feared losing sight of her, she was moving that quickly. I knew it was a risk, but I felt I had to go. I rolled the dice.

The ride out wasn’t bad, with the wind at my back. But it pushed the kayak out further almost as fast as I was getting to it. Thankfully it was straight downwind from me, as every time I had to correct laterally, the wind and increasing chop made things hard to handle.

I had my eyes fixed on the blue and white kayak, and the orange color in the cockpit, which I took to be a life-preserver. As I closed in, I began shouting to the girl, but I could see no movement.

II was 3/4 of a mile out in the lake by the time I got there, at least. When I got there at the kayak after about 15 or 20 minutes of paddling, it was empty. My God, did my heart sink. I checked inside the kayak, and all around it, and looked all over in the vicinity, but saw noone.

Winds were blowing more fiercely from the west, and then trying to paddle back was impossible. After maneuvering around a little looking for her, I decided to wait for the rescue boats to arrive. I couldn’t see them, but I am familiar with them and their response time, having lived on Lake Michigan for over 50 years.

But after about 5 minutes I capsized when the wind picked up suddenly. I ended up clinging to the kayak, fortunately for only about 5 minutes before the rescue boats appeared on the horizon. I waved the orange kayak paddle and they sped to me, arriving in a few more minutes.

They’d expected to find me and a girl (I later found out a sheriff onshore had kept them updated as my rescue attempt was observed by him). I told them that the kayak was empty when I got to it, and I’d not seen her. They fished me out, and took me back to shore and continued their search. Which continues now, over 15 hours later.

It fell to me to tell the father that I’d not found his daughter, that the kayak had been empty when I reached it.

This is so very painful. Devastated is too mild a term to describe how the family feels.

I wish she’d have been in the kayak. We could have talked and told stories until the rescue boats came. I got to the kayak at least 15 minutes before they showed up.

I’m glad I made it back. I realized it might well become one of those “rescuer dies in the attempt” scenarios, especially after I capsized. But when the “child in mortal danger” situation occurs, I apparently default to “must act”. There was literally noone else around who could have gotten to her as soon or sooner. And waiting for a lifejacket would have taken another 3 or 4 minutes, and that’s a critical amount of time on the water.

This has shaken me far more than any medical disasters I’ve worked in. Those were always professional, somehow. This was personal, I guess.

I didn’t even know the girl or her family. They were just guests of our neighbor, who I hadn’t had a chance to meet or greet yet.

I’ve always respected the lake and its dangers, and kept my girls safe as they grew up. In recent years, I’ve stayed out of the deep water, and not even put my sailboat in anymore, as I had grown more doubtful of my ability to really handle the lake safely.

Never turn your back on her.

Tough story, Qadgop, sorry you had to go through this.

Any idea what the adults were thinking allowing her out on the lake without a life vest?

I would guess that she panicked pretty quickly when the wind first got her and she may have jumped out and tried to claw her way back to shore. How simply dreadful for everyone involved. Thank you for your courage. Despite the fact she was unreachable, it was in no way misspent.

Wow…just, wow.

I hope faced with the same situation I would act as you did. Despite the outcome you still did an heroic act.

I can’t even think of what to say. How devastating for her family and for you.
Please take care of yourself in the aftermath of this.

Oh, Qadgop, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry. I know there’s not much hope of recovering her at this point, but I’m still going to hold on anyhow.

Now…go get your neighbor a PFD and tie it into his canoe so you don’t put yourself or anyone else in danger attempting another rescue, ok?

Unfortunately these stories are way too common.

Growing up on the Great Lakes, I was always taught to be very wary of them, especially in a small boat. I have a kayak, and if I’m going out on the big lake, it’s never without a PFD, a wet suit, a buddy, and a rigorous check of the weather. It’s way too easy to become another statistic because that gorgeous day turned windy, and you weren’t prepared for it.

Every few years, someone - usually a college freshman who’s not familiar with the lake - drowns on one of the local beaches, no more than 10-20 yards from the shore.

Yet still, people take risks. I see people in kayaks and canoes all the time without PFDs, without wet suits (Lake Superior is cold, even in July and August. You fall in, you’re going to quickly become hypothermic), and seemingly without any sort of clue that one swift breeze could put them in danger.

It’s really sad.

Thanks for trying, Qadgop. What a horrible thing to have to experience.

:frowning: I’m so sorry. To get close and find the kayak empty would be gut wrenching. She must’ve jumped off and tried to get to shore

As a kid, I spent many summers on the beaches of Lake Michigan and swimming around. I can guarantee since were old enough to swim without without water-wings, none of us wore life vests to play in the water any more than we would if we were swimming in the pool at the YMCA.

What people tend to overlook though are dangers of “fun time floaty crafts” and “toy” watercrafts. They have all the inherent risks of a genuine watercraft. The little blow-up mattress that you inflate with your own lunch power can get swept out beyond the friendly shoreline in a heartbeat. They also think that playing with a sit-on-top kayak near the shore is the same as the inflatable ring that looks like the Loch Ness monster. It doesn’t actually occur to people that their kid is on a kayak, on motherfarkking Lake Michigan.

We were allowed on anything that we could “ride” without a life vest.

Kudos to the Doc for getting out there as fast as he did. I know that me in a canoe with gusty wind, would have been in rough shape trying to get out there paddling solo. Solo canoeing can be tough enough when you’re not rushing to save a life.

I grew up really close to the shore of Lake Michigan (close enough to smell the seasonal alewive die-off, ugh), and my grandfather lived right around where that happened (we’d go to the lake sometimes when visiting him), so I know all too well how rough and bitter cold the water can be.

Even on smaller lakes my parents always put lifejackets on my sister and me when we got in rowboats or canoes.

Damn, I’m sorry. I’m also glad it didn’t take two lives. That was very brave and foolish of you, and I can understand the choice.

Wow. Growing up in Muskegon, I know and respect Lake Michigan well. You were quite brave and did all you could. I’d never venture into the lake in a kayak or canoe, except of course to attempt a rescue.

wow. so difficult on so many levels.

Sorry you had to go through that, and for her family.

I’m sorry - that’s a hell of a thing.

You’re braver than I would have been in that situation. I just about started bawling at work, but got it together: luckily. (I have kids around that age.)

Stand tall.

QFT. It was that type of situation.

Nothing to report, nothing found so far.

I’m glad you’re physically okay. You’re a brave guy. I’m so sorry you weren’t able to get the girl, but I’m selfishly glad we still have you.


Wow man, what a story. What a guy. So sorry it didn’t work out better - that’s heartwrenching :frowning:

I’m so sorry, both for you and the family. How incredibly frustrated and helpless you must have felt, to get to the kayak and find it empty. There are a couple of deaths here in town every damned summer from people floating down our two local rivers on a hot summer’s day in rafts without PFDs on. Every. Damned. Summer.

So sorry for what happened, but thanks for doing what you did.

Did I actually write “lunch power”? :confused: I’ve gotta stop chewing these old lead pencils.

And maybe proofread.

And maybe not post when I’m hungry.

“LUNG power.”

ETA: DAMN! ANother serious screw up of mine:

Not allowed! We were not allowed on anything we could “ride” without a life vest.