A 24-year-old man from Taylor, Michigan, was hospitalized and treated for hypothermia last night after his kayak overturned in Lake Erie.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Nick Ingersoll received a call from Monroe County Dispatch at 7:18 p.m. A kayaker who was walleye fishing overturned in Brest Bay of Lake Erie, offshore of Sterling State Park in Monroe.
The capsized kayaker originally was reported by Deputy Seth Evans, with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, who witnessed the kayaker overturn.
Located nearby on highway 275 and Ready Road, Ingersoll activated the emergency lights on his DNR patrol truck and drove to the Sterling State Park headquarters, where he had prepared his DNR patrol boat earlier in the season. Ingersoll towed the boat to the Sterling State Park boat launch, where two fishermen aided him in launching the patrol boat into the bay.
Dispatch provided Ingersoll with the kayaker’s location based on cellphone coordinates obtained when the kayaker had called 911 for help. Evans also had maintained sight of the kayaker and was able to direct Ingersoll through radio communication, once Ingersoll was in his patrol boat and on the water.
Receiving navigation assistance from Evans, Ingersoll saw the kayaker, located about a quarter of a mile offshore. The kayaker was in the water, holding onto the kayak with one arm, waving his lit-up cellphone in the air with the other arm.
“The water was very choppy, making it difficult to clearly scan the water for the victim,” said Ingersoll. “If it weren’t for the kayaker’s lit-up cellphone, he would have easily been mistaken for a log in the water.”
At 7:38 p.m., Ingersoll reached the kayaker and instructed him to continue holding the kayak. The kayaker was not wearing a lifejacket when he overturned and told Ingersoll that he was unable to find his lifejacket once he was in the water. Ingersoll positioned the DNR patrol boat as close to the kayaker as he safely could and threw him a lifejacket. Once the kayaker had the lifejacket, Ingersoll continued to instruct the kayaker.
“You’re going to have to trust me,” Ingersoll told the kayaker. “I need you to let go of the kayak and trust that I have you.”
Once the man let go of the kayak, Ingersoll was able to secure him on the ladder of the boat.
“He was so cold, he couldn’t move,” Ingersoll said about the kayaker. “He couldn’t step onto the ladder; he was frozen and exhausted.”
Ingersoll was able to lift the kayaker partially onto the boat. Once the kayaker was chest-level on the boat, Ingersoll reached the man’s pants and pulled him the rest of the way out of the water. The kayaker had been in the water for a total of 20 minutes by the time Ingersoll secured him on the DNR boat.
“I instructed him to shed as much of his wet clothing as possible,” said Ingersoll. “I gave him my jacket and told him that he’s going to be very cold, but I’m going to get him to shore, which seemed to calm him a little bit.”
While Ingersoll drove the patrol boat back to shore, he continued to make conversation with the kayaker.
“I knew I had to keep him talking so he would stay conscious. I joked with him a little, and even got him to laugh,” Ingersoll said.
The DNR patrol boat recorded the temperature in the Brest Bay on Thursday evening, which ranged from 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
French Town Fire Department and Monroe County Ambulance were waiting onshore for Ingersoll and the kayaker. Ingersoll transitioned the kayaker to Monroe County Ambulance staff members, who provided onsite medical attention for hypothermia before transporting the kayaker to the hospital at approximately 7:57 p.m.
“Because of Ingersoll’s close proximity, he was able to launch his DNR patrol boat into the water and reach the man within 20 minutes,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Our DNR conservation officers are able to act as first responders due to their location and equipment within the communities they live in and serve. I’m proud of Ingersoll’s fast response for what could have been a tragic situation.”
Ingersoll spoke to the victim’s girlfriend just before 9 p.m., who said that her boyfriend was being prepared for release from the hospital and will make a full recovery.
“This situation stresses the importance of wearing a lifejacket while on the water,” Hagler said. “The DNR wants everyone to enjoy our natural resources, safely. Please don’t take safety for granted. Even in calm waters, kayakers and canoers can easily overturn.”