Accident Database

Report ID# 3819

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

Erhard Fenzel, 73, who appears to have been a very experienced outdoorsman, drowned after capsizing his canoe in Lake Superior at the mouth of the White River. Editor's Notes: Although the accounts on the My Canadian Canoe Routes website do not mention Mr. Fenzel's paddling experience, his extensive experience teaching camping and orienteering leads me to assumee that he was above average in his knowledge about caneoing. The excelent posts on the myccr website, although not first-hand witness reports, give a first hand view of what the paddling conditions could have been like that day. The shore of Lake Superior in this region runs NNW-SSE, and the White River is running due south, almost parallel to the shoreline, where it empties into the lake. Weather Station History for the area, indicates that the wind had been from the west to south-west and under 10 mph for the preceding two days with a fetch of 100-200 miles, so, barring local thunderstorms, the lake sould have been fairly calm, with 1.5' wave heights. Water temp was between 59* and 64*. Note that none of the weather data I found for the area indicated anything other than calm, mild conditions. However, one of the comments below indicate that there were some very windy conditions prevelant in the region. One possibility for the descrepancy is the weather stations are on land, and there is a distinct possibilty that an onshore wind developed due to the land heating during the day time, causing locally strong winds in the shore region, and corresponding increases in wave height. However, the White River was very high.

The closest gauge is Water Services Canada gauge number 02BC004, For comparison, river flow in a drought year is 300 cfs; typical August flows range from 700-2100 cfs depending on rainfall. During floods, it peaks around 7000 cfs. On the day of the accident, it was about 3750 cfs.

CBC News

Police have identified the man who drowned on Saturday afternoon in Pukaskwa National Park in northwestern Ontario. In a news release issued Sunday, Ontario Provincial Police in Marathon said 73-year-old Erhard Frenzl from Kingston, Ont. died after his canoe capsized. They said two men were paddling along the shore of Lake Superior and were entering the mouth of the White River at about 1 p.m. on Saturday when the canoe capsized. The other man, who has not been named, made it to shore, but Frenzl was swept away by the current. Police said the survivor activated an emergency signal from a GPS-based personal tracking device to call for help. A search and rescue aircraft found Frenzl about 500 metres offshore and a boat from the park picked him up. Both the boat crew and police tried to resuscitate him until an ambulance arrived, but he was pronounced dead at the scene. Police do not suspect any foul play in this incident. ---

following are comments from the website My Canadian Canoe Routes and give some excellent insight into the conditions at the time of the accident.

Posted by "MartinG" That is sad. Erhard was a founding member of the Friends of Frontenac and a long time contributor to the park. I took a winter camping course taught by Erhard. He has been teaching and leading outdoor trips for over 30 years. He seemed a very knowledgeable and experienced outdoorsman. I suspect a PFD would do little to save you in Lake superior if the currents prevented you from getting back to shore. Very sad!

Posted by : "JCooper" Water temperature for the section of Lake Superior south of Pukaskwa Park through to Agawa Bay has been 17.7C (64F) in the first 2 weeks of August. River temperatures are usually slightly warmer meaning that the mixing zone at the mouth of the river can be warmer than the lake. Posted by: "littleredcanoe" Joel after we visited with you in Wawa Tuesday we went back to Hattie Cove enroute to Terrace Bay. I believe we met the duo. They were loading on a water taxi to get transported to the North Swallow River. There was a third party. The third guy was hiking the Coastal Trail. The plan was for the paddling party to try and meet with the hiking party each night and in six days all would be back at the parking lot at Hattie Cove. All were of a certain age. They were so looking forward to a good time. They had a wood canvas canoe by Omer They all wore SPOT and never mind Ezs comments. They were wearing their PFD's .. on the water taxi. I can't figure out if there why not in the canoe. Saturday was wicked windy out of the west when we were on the Slate Islands. We had a hard time paddling the homestretch (westward) at 5 pm. (We had circumnavigated Patterson Island)..the wind was going upward of 40 kph. Now making a bit of an assumption that the wind was as strong at the White River, powerful westerly winds along with the considerable outflow of the White River( its been really running hard with all the rain) creates standing waves. Even a mild 10 kph wind makes 1 meter standing waves..imagine what a 40 kph wind does. We had fun twelve days before in the milder conditions with the small standing waves at the mouth of the White River. Like Martin says, I think they were wearing PFD's but the outflow of the White was too powerful to allow getting to shore,and huge standing waves make weird hydraulics. We did the entire coast between Hattie Cove and the mouth of the Michipicoten River. It was fun for us. Except the last windy day on the approach to that river..there was a powerful wind..and we had trouble getting past , again, huge standing waves. One of us almost flipped but there were a dozen people watching. It's different on the White. There is no one there. While we did not know the parties, we share a bit with every paddler we meet and learn a we did this time. So a story like this is just so intimately sobering. My condolences go to all involved and their families.

Posted by "DougB" Terrible news. Of all the whitewater I've paddled, paddling out of the mouth of the Pukaskwa River into Lake Superior remains one of the more stressful paddling memories. The outflow hitting the lake currents created massive irregular swells that took me by suprise. Even with two tandems lashed together it was a bit of a beating. Knock on wood had we gone over there we would have been is serious trouble. I imagine this is what happened here. Posted by "Dewlap" I was in Pukaskwa earlier in the year, in June. On the way out of Hattie Cove the first day it was calm but we still gave the White River mouth a wide berth just in case. On the return trip we headed up the river to the suspension bridge. The mouth of the river was fine, but everything changed when we came down the river in a heavy fog. Visibility was low and we had seconds to react to the large standing waves at the mouth. We had no choice but to commit and ran the waves...turning or ferrying towards the shore was not an option. Besides there are no eddies in that area. We kept paddling out into the lake till the waves got more consistent then turned and headed for shore...which due to visibility we could no longer see. It was the most tense moments I have ever had in a canoe, and I feel like we lucky more than anything. That spot is real tricky, especially if fog is obsuring your view. We couldn't even see across the river, and it is very narrow. It sounds like what happened to the two guys is exactly what we were fearing when we were around the mouth of the river. Your chances of swimming to shore are slim in an upset, the current is very strong and it shoots right out into the lake. My advice to anybody heading to the spot is to take it real slow and approach hugging the shore. Approaching from the south lake shore will give you a better view, the north shore has kind of a peninsula that will block your view of the river.

Posted by "marscanoe" From the Friends of Frontenac Park a tribute to Erhard Frenzl... “It is with much sadness that we share the news of the tragic death of ‘our’ Erhard Frenzl – ‘King of the volunteers’ Erhard was on a trip-of-a-lifetime to Pukaskwa National Park with two other volunteers, Don and Jérôme, when his canoe capsized in Lake Superior at the mouth of the White River.” His involvement with Frontenac Park, stretches back to the late 1970s when he came to Kingston from Montreal, taking day trips to the Park and teaching wildlife and camping courses, specifically map and compass navigation, through the Friends of Frontenac organization up until his death. Erhard had been volunteering at the park since 1982 after leading an Air Cadets' field trip. You could see his smiling face practically every weekend, in all seasons. Frenzl was involved in the creation of the Friends of Frontenac Provincial Park in 1992 an outdoor volunteer program that assists in the maintenance and preservation of the park’s grounds. Needless to say, he will be missed. Our profound condolences go to his family and friends.

Says frequent Frontenac Park visitor and supporter, Cathy Anderson of Tweed, “He always will be ‘Frontenac Park’ to me. I will really miss him.

Link to Pukaskwa National Park Paddling Guide:

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