Accident Database

Report ID# 3917

  • Other
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

4_ thick ice and a foot of snow!!
There was an overestimation of skills from both of the boaters involved. Both boaters were using short touring kayaks. While they had been paddling this stretch of river for many times, they did not know how to cope with current and ice situations. Neither boater was wearing a pfd; the surviving boater mentioned that it was hard to add insulation around the life vest. Both paddlers were bulked up with insulated materials, which impeded movement. 
Weather conditions were at an air temperature around 15 degrees. The week before the incident had air temperatures averaging around -10 degrees. The extreme cold created iced over areas on the river; normal winter temperatures at this time of year are around 20 to 30 degrees, which are temperatures that would have been experienced by the boaters previously. At 20 to 30 degrees air temp, the river ices over thinly, and is easily broken. At the time that the boaters went out, there had been close to two weeks of subzero temperatures, and the ice-overs were more substantial. 
One boater carried a hatchet, in case of thick ice, so they had some perception of risk. 
It was quite obvious that neither boater understood that fringe ice can function as a strainer hazard. When they came across an iced over area, they beached on ice where the current was located. (not on the side of the river) One boater beached on the ice, and it appears that the boat slipped backwards and flipped into the current. This boater went under the ice. The survivor beached, but had extra traction on the ice due to his hatchet. 
While the paddlers were familiar with the river section, they did not appear to have knowledge of strainer avoidance. Conditions were very cold, and the water flow on the gage was moderate for that time. Neither paddler wore a pfd. 


Oren Kennedy 

Michael Bolton / Facebook: It's a popular run here...swift with many small rapids on this stretch. I've paddled it in the winter...but it can and often does freeze over. One has to be careful. He was a good sea kayaker and did paddle rivers too. Maybe too complacent on familiar water? Authorities find body of missing kayaker swept under ice on Rogue River

Andrew Krietz |

February 08, 2015

PLAINFIELDTOWNSHIP, MI -- Authorities on Sunday recovered the body of a man who fell beneath the ice on the Rogue River. The victim, identified as 65-year-old Thomas Shepard of Grand Rapids, was found near an area where he last was seen alive at Rio Rogue Lane and Roguewood Drive, according to a release from the Kent County Sheriff's Department. Shepard and a friend, 50-year-old Daniel Silverthorn of Grand Rapids, were kayaking Saturday afternoon on the Rogue River when they came across a large body of ice on the river. Each tried to get out of their kayaks to walk over the ice when Shepard's craft suddenly began taking on water. Police say he was pulled underneath the ice by the river's strong current. Silverthorn attempted to rescue the man to no avail. Neither man was wearing a life jacket. A team of sheriff's deputies, the Kent County dive team, firefighters and a helicopter conducted a search for Shepard on Saturday but were unsuccessful. Another search for the victim began Sunday morning. No foul play is suspected, authorities say.

ROCKFORD, Mich. — A man is dead after kayaking with a long-time friend on the Rogue River near Rockford. Thomas Shepard, 65, worked decades helping children who suffered from abuse and was a well trained kayaker. He and friend Dan Silverthorne ventured out on a kayaking trip on the Rogue River near Rockford on Saturday afternoon. The two men had scouted the location for a few days and decided to take their boats into the water. About a mile into their trip, the two came across their first chunk of ice, Silverthorne said.

“We didn’t expect it, but we made a plan for it right then, hoping we didn’t run into anymore. But if we did, we wanted to be safe about it.”

A little further down the river, the two men decided that the conditions weren’t safe. “We were both pretty fatigued, and we were getting cold, and we had full wet suits,” said Silverthorne. “I looked at him, and he looked at me, and he said, ‘If we fall out of these boats, you know we are going under that ice,’ And I said, ‘You are right.'”

While attempting to reach the river bank, the two worked to stay afloat when the unthinkable happened. “I turned around and he was gone,” said Silverthorne. “His boat wasn’t turned over. His boat wasn’t taking on water. He was just gone, and I started screaming for help. I’ll never know what happened.”

Silverthorne said that he planned to use his safety line and jump into the water to search for Shepard, who he presumed was stuck under the ice, but he couldn’t find anything to attach the line to. Shepard’s body was pulled from the river on Sunday.

Shepard served three tours in Vietnam and earned two master’s degrees in psychology. Silversthorne said his friend dedicated his life to helping children. “There are people out there right now that are adults that are where they are at because of Tom Shepard. That’s a fact,” said Silverthorne. “He was a thinker. He was very wise. But on top of that, you know, I always called him my hero.”


The Kent County Sheriff’s Department, Plainfield and Cannon Township Fire Departments, and Aero Med all took part in the search.


Date: February 8th, 2015 

Complaint Number: 15-105780 

Type of Incident: Fatal boating accident 

Reporting Officer: Deputy Kelly Vandenberg 

Supervisor Approval: Sergeant Bryan Muir 

 On Saturday, February 7th, 2015 at approximately 2:34 pm, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department along with the Plainfield Fire Department and Rockford Ambulance were dispatched to the area of Rio Rogue Lane NE and Roguewood DR NE on a report of a possible boating accident. Upon emergency personnel arriving on scene they were able to determine two men had been kayaking on the Rogue River when they had encountered a large body of ice on the river. The men attempted exit their kayaks to walk over the ice, when one of the subject’s kayak began to take on water. The victim, Thomas Shepard, a 65 year old Grand Rapids resident was pulled under the ice shelf by the strong current and the second kayaker, Daniel Silverthorn, a 50 year old Grand Rapids resident attempted to render aid to his friend, but was unsuccessful. Neither subject had been wearing a personal floatation device.

After attempting to render aid, Silverthorn made contact with nearby residents, who contacted 9-1-1. The sheriff’s departments dive team, along with the assistance of the Plainfield and Cannon Township fire departments and Aeromed conducted an extensive search in an attempt to locate and recover Shepard’s body. The initial search was terminated late Saturday night after conditions became unsafe for emergency personnel. A second search was conducted in the early morning hours of Sunday, February 8th by the sheriff’s department along with the Plainfield and Cannon township fire departments. During the course of the secondary search, Shepard’s body was located a short distance from where he had last been seen alive. The medical examiner’s office was contacted and the victim’s family was notified of the recovery. No foul play is suspected and the sheriff’s department recommends all boaters wear a personal floatation device while boating.

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