GOULDSBORO, Maine — A woman whose kayak capsized Wednesday afternoon was rescued from the chilly ocean by a local lobsterman, but her kayaking guide and a kayaking companion died after they encountered a brief squall off the local village of Corea, according to officials.
“She was conscious, but just barely,” said Bruce Crawley of Corea, who has worked on the sea since age 10 and is the captain of the Cindy Lee. “She was just helpless.”
“She also had the rope from inside her kayak, she wrapped it around her hand,” he said later, adding that might have helped to save her life.
Crawley went searching for the missing kayakers with Lenny Young of Corea after the two stopped at the beach near Corea when Crawley saw the wife of the kayaking guide pacing. She informed them that the three were overdue. He told her to call the Coast Guard and went to his boat.
The men were one group of many who responded Wednesday to a report about the missing kayakers being overdue. Crawley and Young pulled the survivor from the water around 8 p.m. and brought her to shore. The woman, whose name has not yet been released, was being treated Thursday at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
The names of the two kayakers who died in the incident — both men — have not yet been released by state officials investigating the incident. One of them, however, has been identified by town officials and media reports as local resident Ed Brackett, a registered kayak guide and the town’s part-time code enforcement officer.
Local lobsterman Mike Hunt had just finished dinner Wednesday when he got a call from a woman asking for help searching for three past-due kayakers, who left from a beach in the local village of Corea around noon. The U.S. Coast Guard was contacted around 6:30 p.m., two hours after the kayakers were supposed to return, and was joined by local fishermen and Maine Marine Patrol in looking for the missing kayakers.
Hunt, Crowley, fellow lobsterman John Coffin and other fishermen went to the water to search. Hours later, they found the kayakers. The two men were unresponsive, but the woman was conscious — though, according to the Coast Guard, she was hypothermic and unable to speak.
“It was Bruce Crawley that saved her life,” Hunt said Thursday while being interviewed on his boat, the Northeastern.
After finding the woman, Crawley and Young tried to pull her into their boat and were unable to, so Young got into the skiff and was able to pull her aboard the smaller vessel. Crawley went and grabbed any clothing he could find to cover her. The Coast Guard was about a mile away and quickly responded, he said.
“She couldn’t talk or communicate,” Crawley recalled. “She couldn’t even blink. She was lucky.”
A storm that blew through the area at about 5 p.m. is believed to have played a role in the incident.
“That is what got them — when that storm came up, it rolled the kayaks,” Hunt said.
Hunt and Crowley were communicating by radio while they searched for the missing kayakers. Hunt said he searched around the islands at the mouth of Gouldsboro Bay, thinking he would find them taking shelter on one of the islands. After searching there for about an hour, he and Crowley traveled toward “Moulton Ledge,” about 2½ miles from shore.
“I went down the west side, and he went down the east side,” Hunt recalled. “At 8:03 [p.m., Crowley] came on the radio and said, ‘Get over here.’ He had found the lady.”
Hunt found two empty kayaks within a couple hundred yards of Crowley’s location, and “within 10 to 15 minutes, he saw the first guy in the water.” The body was loaded onto Hunt’s boat. As the two boats headed to shore, he added, “John Coffin, from Dyer’s Bay, came on the radio and said he found the third person.”
The kayakers planned to cross Gouldsboro Bay and return but got caught in the storm and the outgoing tide, Hunt believes, which is why they were found so far from shore.
“When that tide goes out between those islands — it’s no place to be,” Hunt said.
The storm was a “30-knot southener.” “It went from no wind to 30 mph, just like that,” Hunt added, snapping his fingers.
Warren Polk, manager of the local Corea Lobster Co-Op, said everyone who heard that people were missing went to their boats.
“If there is any trouble or when anybody need help, these guys go full force,” Polk said Thursday morning. “It’s just the kind of people they are. They can look at the water and tides and know [where to look].”
Ben Walter, who has worked on the water for decades, said in his opinion kayaks are not safe to use on the open seas.
“They shouldn’t allow them in the ocean,” Walter said of the small self-propelled watercraft. “It’s a whole different world with the tides.”
Hunt said over the years he has helped pull nearly half a dozen people safely from the water and didn’t expect anything different when he went out Wednesday.
“It’s disheartening,” he said, standing in his boat’s wheelhouse. “It’s not the first time kayakers have gotten in trouble around here.”
Local fisherman Ed Weaver was working on his boat on the harbor shore Wednesday when the storm blew in. He said that kayakers should be required to wear EPIRBs,
According to Maine Department of Marine Resources, the survivor has told Marine Patrol officers that the passing squall capsized their boats. The waves, reportedly 3- to 5-feet high, caused all three kayaks to roll over in the approximately 52-degree water.
Approximately a half-hour after the woman was rescued, a second victim was recovered by Crawley. Both were wearing life preservers, he said.
The male victim was brought to shore and pronounced dead by local emergency medical personnel. At around 10 p.m. the third victim, a 54-year-old male, was found by a local lobster fisherman. Maine Marine Patrol personnel recovered the third victim, who also was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to Marine Patrol officers, the victims were wearing T-shirts and shorts. All members of the party were wearing life jackets. The victims and survivor were recovered approximately halfway between Cranberry Point and Petit Manan Island.
“They were a couple of miles offshore,” DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols said.
The names of the victims are not being released at this time, pending notification of next of kin, Nichols added. The investigation into the cause of this incident is ongoing and involves the Maine Marine Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard.
According to Kenneth Stuart, command duty officer at Sector North New England, the kayakers were found within 300 to 400 yards of each other. He said ocean conditions were calm late Wednesday afternoon and evening after the brief storm had blown through the area.
“This is a very tragic outcome,” Stuart said in the prepared statement. “We deeply appreciate the efforts of those local boaters who assisted tonight, and we’ll be working to determine what happened and how to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future.”