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Three Sea Kayakers Rescued, Fourth Succumbs to Injuries

May 29, 2005

Channel Islands National Park, California - A fatal incident involving a 26-year-old female kayaker occurred over the Memorial Day holiday offshore of Santa Cruz Island. On the afternoon of Sunday, May 29th, rangers, assisted by a Ventura-based private vessel, responded to a report of two missing kayakers last seen off the eastern end of the island.

Battling rough seas and 30- to 35-knot winds, they located two distressed female kayakers about 20 yards from the shoreline, a quarter mile west of San Pedro Point. The two paddlers were in the water with no sign of their kayak one, 26-year-old Grace Huang, suffered from head trauma and was semi-conscious. Each paddler suffered from exposure, exhibiting telltale symptoms of hypothermia after floating in the 58-degree waters for nearly two hours. Shortly after discovering the kayakers, a 47-foot Coast Guard rescue vessel from Channel Islands Harbor responded to a mayday call, retrieved the pair from the water, and assisted in providing medical treatment. Huang was hoisted off the vessel by Coast Guard helicopter and flown to St. Johnís Hospital. She was pronounced dead later that evening.

The surviving kayaker was transported by Coast Guard rescue vessel to Prisoners Harbor, where she was transported, along with another patient from a separate incident, by Mercy Air Medivac to Ventura County Medical Center. She was treated for mild hypothermia and released later that night. According to the surviving kayaker, their sit-upon style kayak capsized after being hit by a large wave. She watched as Huang was swept onto the rocky island shoreline, thrashed by repeated waves, then washed back out to sea. Clinging to each other, she held her friend above water until they were rescued.

The two kayakers were part of a group of seven Taiwanese nationals who were camping on the island. They had rented kayaks on the mainland and planned to kayak for the first time. The two women departed Scorpion Bay at about 3:30 p.m., accompanied by a second tandem kayak paddled by friends, a male and a female. A short distance past Little Scorpion Anchorage, the wind and sea conditions picked up and the two kayaks were separated. The second kayak capsized after being righted, the male and female paddlers drifted out to sea, later to be rescued by another boater. They reported their friends missing when they returned to the island after 5:30 p.m.

The waters of the Santa Barbara Channel are known to be treacherous. Wind and sea conditions can change rapidly and with little warning. The volatile conditions can be a challenge for even the most experienced of kayakers. Rangers urge kayakers to be wary of these conditions, to file a float plan, and to use caution and only paddle in conditions that match their skill level.

The above information from the National Park Service.

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