2014-07-03 / Local News

Five kayakers rescued off Lake Michigan

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Five kayakers were rescued from Lake Michigan Sunday evening after getting hit by high winds and waves in the Manitou Passage.

The kayakers, ages 18 and 19, from New York, West Bloomfield and Grand Rapids had kayaked from Glen Haven to South Manitou Island Friday and camped their until running out of food Sunday.

The group, in 6 to 10-foot vessels, ventured out on the big lake about 2 p.m., despite high seas. Two in the party planned to try and navigate to Glen Haven and the other three were going to use the south wind and come ashore wherever it took them.

Waves were from 6 to 10 feet at the time of the incident.

“It’s not uncommon for the waves to be 10 feet one place and a mile away 6,” said Charlie Belanger, Leelanau County Marine Patrol commander. “The water out there changes quickly. That’s what makes the Manitou Passage so dangerous.”

Three Indiana men sailing from South Manitou to Glen Haven discovered the kayakers in distress, and called for help about 6 p.m. By the time the ship could be turned around to help, just three of the five kayakers were visible. Two of the three had overturned in the high waves. All three were brought aboard the sailboat.

One victim was vomiting and others who had been in the water were shivering. Marine deputies launched and met the sailboat to escort the vessel to Leland Harbor where Leland Rescue was waiting. None were transported to the hospital.

The other two kayakers were located and rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter closer to Glen Arbor. One had overturned and was so cold that he could not give a statement immediately.

“He had lost his coherence and verbal skills,” Belanger said.

Both victims were airlifted to shore where the Glen Lake Fire Department warmed them. Neither was transported to the hospital.

Belanger said the kayakers were fortunate to survive the ordeal.

“They were in small kayaks, recreational kayaks not designed for big water,” he said. “They shouldn’t have been out in those seas.”

The National Park Service, Coast Guard and Leelanau County Sheriff’s Department advise the kayaks and canoes do not mix well with the waters of Lake Michigan and should only be used on inland waterways.

Water temperature in the Manitou Passage Sunday was between 46 and 50 degrees.

“It doesn’t take long to succumb in those temperatures,” Belanger said.

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