Coast Guard helicopter crew saves kayakers from drowning in 6-10 foot waves

Traverse City – A U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopter crew from Air Station Traverse City, Mich., saved two kayakers who were in danger of drowning near Sleeping Bear Dunes, Friday at about 5 p.m.

An employee with the National Park Service called for help after spotting the men who got into trouble when weather conditions on Lake Michigan deteriorated and their kayaks reportedly began taking on water.

One of the kayaks completely sank, leaving the occupant, who was wearing a life jacket, fighting six-foot waves approximately one mile offshore. The other kayaker, also wearing a life jacket, was able to hold on to his kayak even though it nearly sank as well.

When the aircrew found the first kayaker, they deployed a rescue swimmer, lowered the aircraft’s rescue basket, hoisted the man aboard and flew him to shore where EMS was waiting. The rescue swimmer stayed in the water while the aircrew took the kayaker to safety.

The helicopter crew then recovered the rescue swimmer and went to search for the second kayaker. They located him about two miles away from the other man. He was holding on to the front of his kayak with both arms and legs and was barely able to keep his head above the 10-foot waves he was fighting.

“Without their life jackets, there’s no telling how long they would have been able to fight those waves,” said Lt. j.g. Skylar Swenson, co-pilot aboard the helicopter.

The aircrew dropped the swimmer again and rescued the second kayaker.

Both kayakers were conscious and responsive, but exhausted and shivering uncontrollably while being flown to shore. EMS transported them to a local hospital for further evaluation.

The aircrew estimated that the men were in the water for at least one hour.

In addition to Swenson, the helicopter crew was made up of Aircraft Commander Lt. Matt Keeney, Flight Mechanic Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Izett and Rescue Swimmer Petty Officer 3rd Class Ben Brown.

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