In October 2006, three friends went kiting in the Great Lakes and encountered severe weather. One rider was lofted in a squall with 50-knot-plus winds. His first impact with the water sent spray flying 50 feet. He was knocked unconscious and again lofted horizontally 200 feet. He was wearing an impact vest and his helmet flew off when he hit the water.
After the squall passed, his friend was able to reach him more than 3,000 feet downwind. He was washed up on an isolated beach; unconscious, blue, and not breathing—essentially dead. His friend kicked into emergency mode and performed more than 10 minutes of CPR. The third friend soon arrived with help by boat. Reportedly, the victim flat-lined twice on the way to the hospital. The ambulance staff gave the impression that he wouldn’t make it. Thankfully calm thinking and good training resulted in a mostly happy ending to this true story. Rick Iossi gives us a full debriefing so we can learn from the accident
Unusual lake effect snow was predicted and 50 mph winds were forecast a few days before. Gusty, shifting winds averaging around 18 mph heralded an approaching cold front. Air and water temperatures were both about 40 F. Some experienced riders had decided to pass on riding that day due to concern over conditions.
The wind was offshore at the normal spot so they took an inflatable boat ride about ∏ mile across a channel to an exposed sand bar to setup around 2:30 pm. Paul was very experienced, while Jason and another rider we‚ll call Ralph had a season or so of kiting. Paul and Ralph rigged 5th line „C‰ 12 m kites (black and yellow kites respectively) while Jason rigged a 4 line C 12 m kite.
A. Patterson, another kiter was mulling over whether to launch or not. Instead he chose to grab a digital SLR with 300 mm telephoto lens to shoot the three guys riding about ∏ mile on the far side of the channel.
A "Dry" cold front or one lacking a leading edge squall line was inbound. No thunder, lightning or notable precipitation was reported with the arrival of this front. There were dark clouds and a drop in light and temperature. Strong frontal winds and frequent 90 degree direction shift can arrive with cold fronts. These factors cost the life of a Conneticutt kiterboarder. More about Weather, Fronts and Kiteboarding in Spring 2005 SBC Kiteboard magazine, reproduced at: http://fksa.org/showthread.php?t=470
The three kiters were riding by around 3:30 pm. Thanks to A. Patterson‚s excellent photography there is a detailed, time stamped record of what transpired. At 4:31:06 pm the wind gusted lofting Paul and causing Ralph to slam his kite into the water. Clouds darkened and white caps and waves appeared. A 40 mph gust was recorded a few miles away but due to local effects it could have been into the 50 mph+ range due to local conditions at the launch.
Jason had ridden about 600 ft. upwind. He may have lost his board in the early gusts and was dragging with his kite near the zenith. Paul successfully released his QR in mid loft, activated his 5th line and depowered his kite for most of the incident. Reportedly Ralph couldn‚t release his QR but in time activated his 5th line as well. As his kite was near the water unlike the other two riders he was dragged and not lofted.
At 4:32:05 pm while Paul was dealing with his depowered kite in the shallows and Ralph was dragged downwind, Jason was lofted into the photo frame. Jason was approximately 40 ft. off the water, traveling up at a 35 degrees holding the control bar. The sky is dark and heavy vapor is being ripped by gusting winds from the lake‚s surface. It is estimated Jason was lofted at approximately 4:32:03 pm (referred to as „Time‰ or „T‰ ).
At T+4 seconds (4:32:07 pm) Jason slams forward into the water and detonating a massive splash, 50 ft. long and 25 ft. high. He was likely knocked unconscious at this point. Jason was lofted horizontally about 200 ft.+, 40 ft.+ high and was traveling over 30 mph at time of impact with the water. He wore a Protec helmet that apparently flew off following water impact likely after cushioning some of the impact. He was wearing an impact vest which may have minimized other injury.
After Jason splashed in, he was repeated yanked up and hurled at high speed and force against the water by the strong gusts. His upper body appears to be held out of the water by the overpowered conditions and high angle of kite. Ralph was dragging nearby with his kite on the 5th line.
At about T+27 seconds (4:32:32 pm), winds lightened and the sky cleared slightly. Jason‚s kite slowly rises and passes through the zenith lifting him four feet above the water like a rag doll apparently unconscious. The kite continues to arc shoreward and slowly drags Jason there. The lighter force from the kite allows Jason‚s head to submerge beneath the water. As he had no reported fluid in his lungs he likely wasn‚t breathing prior to this time. Eventually his kite went over the beach and lodged low in the trees. Jason had been dragged ashore with his head on the sand and his feet in the water. The exact time the kite went ashore is unknown from the photos but at T+9 minutes 43 seconds (4:41:46 pm) you can see Paul‚s boat beached near Jason and with Paul apparently administering CPR. Jason had traveled a substantial distance down the shore, perhaps 3000 ft. before beaching. Ralph was still dealing with his own problems and eventually drifted by Jason as he was being dragged into the beach. It is impressive that Paul made it to Jason less than 10 minutes after the gusts hit the riders. Ralph ran up and rushed off to go to his boat near the launch to call for help.
Paul said Jason‚s face was very blue, was not breathing, had no pulse and was essentially dead. Paul kicked into emergency mode and started CPR and gave it his all to near exhaustion. He had to shift to using his knee for compressions near the end he was so tired. Jason revived after at least 10 minutes of intense CPR. Jason response was miraculous given the poor reported survival rate for similar victims. Way to go Paul, truly a life saver!!!
Help arrived by boat thanks to Ralph‚s efforts. Reportedly, Jason „flat lined‰ twice more on the way to the hospital. The ambulance staff gave the impression that Jason wouldn‚t make it, but he did. He was 43 and in excellent shape. Still you can‚t keep someone like Jason down for long and with time and a lot of effort he has worked his way back. There was lots of support from local kiteboarders with 20 or more in his hospital room many times.
I recently spoke to Jason. He is a very positive, intelligent guy loving life and happy to be back. He had his first kiteboarding session since the accident in early July 2007 and is anxious to get more time on the water. Jason lost memory of about a month of his life around the accident. He suffered four broken ribs, a collapsed lung, Diffuse Axonal brain injury and was in the hospital for a month. Diffuse axonal injury can be a particularly severe and debilitating type of brain injury. He was in a coma for the first day in the hospital. He lost some vision in his left eye. He was bed ridden and couldn‚t walk for the first month. He had to learn to walk again.
After about three weeks he realized he had no short term memory (sort of like in the movie "50 First Dates"). Remember „Hi, my name is Tom‰ from the movie? Jason actually did that at times introducing people around the room and then going to start over. It took him months to get his energy back. He had to sleep for 18 hours a day for three months. He started to suffer panic attacks even though he had a history of handling stress very well. He has a lot of responsibilities, running a company, has a family, is a concert level pianist, professional magician. He was worried that he might not be able to still play the piano but discovered that gift was intact shortly after leaving the hospital.
It took about seven months for Jason‚s life to get back to normal, emotionally, mentally and physically. He felt getting back out to kiteboarding made his recovery complete. His sessions just keep getting better. Jason loves kiteboarding so much, nothing else comes close. "When the wind is perfect, the sun is setting, you're in a flock of birds and you‚re ripping along, there is nothing quite as sweet."
How to try to avoid something like this?
A. WEATHER, be thoroughly knowledgeable about strong & excessively gusty weather in your area. Check reliable forecasts, weather maps, color radar/satellite images and real time winds upweather (only takes minutes). At the launch, watch for changing conditions and react well in advance of substantial temperature, wind speed or direction alterations. Work to anticipate and avoid hazardous weather. Experience has shown reacting in the face of weather hazards is a bad idea. These guys ran out of time to react. If unusual or violent conditions are forecast, blow off riding. More about this at the FKSA.org link above.
B. EMERGENCY KITE DEPOWERING, make it second nature with whatever kite you are using. Rehearse in your head and practice, "if this happens I'll do this EARLY regularly. Anyone can freeze in the shock of a lofting, regular practice may help you to act instead of locking up. Learning how to jump may also help your reactions.
C. WATER CAN HURT TOO, just because you are well away from land doesn‚t mean you can't be injured. Some think by avoiding land they can weather most storms, wrong. Guys have been lofted substantial distances into land and even hitting water can seriously mess you up.
D. SAFETY GEAR, wear a good helmet, impact vest and carry reasonable safety gear. Jason‚s trauma might have been even worse without a helmet and vest. Have reliable emergency communication, by pay phone, cell, marine radio.
E. RIDE WITH FRIENDS, kite with people who know you and your habits. The capable team response of Paul and Ralph was a critical factor in Jason's survival. Knowing CPR and first aid is a good thing for everyone and made the difference between life and death in this case.