Accident Database

Report ID# 3098

  • Swim into Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Fellow kayakers remember EWU professor

Posted: Monday, June 1, 2009 2:53 AM EST

KXLY TV Spokane

SPOKANE: Dr. Tony Oertling was kayaking with friends on Marble Creek, a tributary of the St. Joe River in north Idaho, when he ran into trouble. Dr. Oertling had kayaked for more than 20 years, many of those spent on Marble Creek and other tributaries of the St. Joe. Friends who were with Dr. Oertling on the trip say he was wearing a lifevest and helmet. He was prepared for the water, as Dr. Oertling had kayaked the same stretch a half-dozen times before, but somehow this time, something went terribly wrong.

"This was an accident in our estimation, beyond our control, just circumstantial," said Matt Chase, one of Dr. Oertling's kayaking buddies. Dr. Oertling spent the last hours of his life doing what he loved most. An avid kayaker, his friends say he lived for adventure. He was easy going, laid back, quick to tell a joke, quick to lend a hand," said Chase. Chase was one of the men who was on the fatal kayak trip. He said the group of five became separated on the water and lost track of Dr. Oertling. They later found his body upstream and Chase says they will likely never know what went wrong. "We talked about it a lot in the last couple of days, what could we have done differently, did we do something wrong," said Chase. "We did everything right, we talked about everything we needed to talk about, we were carrying everything we needed to carry."

Word of Dr. Oertling's death is traveling quickly through Spokane's paddling community. "It's kind of a somber mood in here because we know we've lost somebody, its hard," said Nate Swenson of Mountain Gear. Swenson and others at Mountain Gear say Dr. Oertling was well known in kayaking circles. Employees fielded questions from customers about Dr. Oertling's tragic death. Those who knew, and others who didn't, say Dr. Oertling's death is a tragic reminder that rivers can claim the lives of even the strongest paddlers. "Unfortunately it's terrible that this is the way wake-up calls happen," said Swenson. "It's really sad we have to lose someone who's so experienced that a lot of people can learn from." Despite the tragedy, Dr. Oertling's friends say they'll keep paddling. "It's part of who we are, it's part of our lifestyle for as long as any of us can remember," Chase said. "We'll continue to paddle in his honor and think about him a lot." Dr. Oertling was finishing his first year as Chair of the Chemistry and Biochemitry Department at EWU. Friends say there will likely be a memorial on campus within the next few weeks. Dr, Oertling leaves behind his wife of nine years.

Man drowns in St. Joe River

KXLY AM Spokane WA

AVERY, Idaho -- The Shoshone County Sheriff's Office confirms that a 54-year-old man is believed to be drowned in the St. Joe River near Marble Creek. 54-year-old Dr. Tony Oertling was floating on the St. Joe when he began having troubles with his kayak, according to family members. Dr. Oertling got out of his kayak to swim to shore when he became caught on an object in the water and drowned. The four others traveling down the river with Dr. Oertling tried to save him, but couldn't revive him. According to the Shoshone County Sheriff's Office, Dr. Oertling had nearly three decades of kayaking experience, 20 of those on the St. Joe River. Deputies say all of the people in Oertling's party were wearing life jackets and other safety gear. Family members say Dr. Oertling was a chemistry professor at Eastern Washington University

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