Coast Guard suspends search for missing kite surfer

MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. – The Coast Guard suspended a search for a suspected missing kite surfer at 1:00 a.m., Wednesday.

At approximately 4:00 p.m., on Tuesday, the Coast Guard received a report of a kite-surfing kite in the water off of Pilot Rock near Trinidad, Calif. and immediately initiated a 9-hour search mission involving two 47-foot Motor Lifeboats from Station Humboldt Bay and three helicopter sorties from Air Station Humboldt Bay.

The search was suspended as the aircraft and rescue boat had saturated the search area with negative results. Also, no one had reported a missing kite or missing surfers in the area.

Hours after suspending the search, the Coast Guard received a phone call from a professor at Humboldt State University who is an avid kite surfer. He said that there are only approximately 10 highly active kite surfers in the area. After the Coast Guard described the kite that had been recovered by the Coast Guard rescue boat, the professor was able to determine that the kite belonged to a Humboldt State University student and that the student was safely ashore.

The Coast Guard then contacted the surfer and he positively identified his kite. He stated that he had a gear failure and was getting pulled out to sea when he cut himself free of the harness and began to swim to shore from a position 60-feet outside of the breakers off of Clam Beach. The surfer told the Coast Guard that he almost broadcasted a distress signal to his friend, a safety spotter on the beach, but he became concerned about the possible costs he would incur if he got rescued by the Coast Guard.

“All U.S. Coast Guard services are free of charge. It is important for all those who are in need of assistance to not hesitate to call the Coast Guard if they are in distress,” said Lt. Todd Vorenkamp. “It is important to use the ‘buddy system’ and it was terrific that this surfer had positioned a safety observer on the beach and had planned for several contingencies. However, he did make a judgment error in not contacting the Coast Guard to tell us that he had abandoned his kite.”

To assist the Coast Guard in similar cases, the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area command has initiated a program called Operation Paddle Smart which provides stickers to boaters for the purpose of identifying the owners of the equipment and assisting in the initial investigation of a possible search and rescue case.

More information on Operation Paddle Smart can be found here.

Coast Guard Group Humboldt Bay should be receiving stickers in the near future.

The Coast Guard strongly encourages all mariners, commercial and recreational, to report any and all lost gear to the Coast Guard be it a paddle, oars, sails, kites, safety equipment, etc. Also, it is helpful to put your name and contact information on any gear that may be lost overboard or in the surf. Once spotted, all of these items could lead to an exhaustive, and possibly unnecessary, search by the Coast Guard and local law enforcement officials. A prior report of the gear missing or identifying information on the gear can mean the difference between an effective search and rescue effort, a missing persons report, or simply, a way to return the gear to the rightful owner.

“The Coast Guard exists to provide search and rescue at sea and all Coast Guardsmen are ready to answer a distress call,” said Vorenkamp, “However, we would all prefer to know that someone is safely ashore before we launch into bad weather or the dark of night to look for someone that may have simply lost some boating equipment.”

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