Written by John Kiffmeyer in the third person. Other paddlers that were there have made revisions to make this as accurate as possible.
The decision was made to begin paddling the Presque Isle River about 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning. After breakfast, the boats were loaded and the paddlers went to the put in at the Steiger Bridge . The paddlers putting on that day were Jim Rada, Paul Everson, Anett Trebitz, Mike LaMarche, Joerg Steinbach, Mike Dziobak, Mark Hardy, John Kiffmeyer, Chris Clark and Brock Royer. The weather was wonderful, approximately in the low 60's, and Paul recalled later that Jim said, "You would have to be stupid to think that it could be any more perfect than this". The level was moderate, about 7 1/3, and everyone geared up and put on about 11:00 a.m. a planned.
After about a mile of paddling we encountered Battleship and all ran through fine to eddy out above Triple Drop. For those not familiar, Triple drop consists of three pitches. The first being a river right run down a pushy tongue, the second is approximately 75 feet after and being the largest of the three, consisting of a river wide hole, and the third is approximately 25 feet after and is a ledge that spills left to a tongue, center to a hole, and right to a rocky slide. Mike Dziobak set up safety along river left at the second pitch with a throw bag and Mike LaMarche put in below the second drop and ran left down the tongue on the third drop and eddied out river right, about 50 feet below the third pitch, to set up as a safety boat.
John and Joerg made the decision to run through Triple Drop punching through the center of the second pitch and eddied out river right before the third pitch. Anett was next, she ran a line tight with the river left side skirting the holes nicely. She eddied out next to Mike and told him that she would setup a throw bag on river left below the third pitch. Jim decided to run the same line. He ran a smooth and perfect line across the second pitch but he was right of the tongue and proceeded over the third pitch in the river center were he became stuck in the hole.
He surfed the hole for approximately three minutes. Upon coming out, he made a few roll attempts but never came over. At that point Mike LaMarche was in his boat next to him and after seeing the failed attempts, rammed his boat a few times to let him know he was there for him to roll on Mike's boat. After this, Mike recalled seeing the paddle be released and come to the surface, floating beside the boat. He saw Jim still in his boat but Jim was not moving.
At this point Mike decided to eddy out not knowing how close he was to Nokomis, a class V rapid. Nokomis is approximately a 1/4 mile downstream and at that level is a very large hole with another very sticky one preceding it, stretching most of the way across the river. As Mike was pulling off and eddying out, John took over on pursuit after the paddle and boat, with Jim assumingly still in it, which John did not know at the time. He caught up with the paddle and threw it up to shore and proceeded down as far as possible to an eddy on river left approximately 50 feet above Nokomis. At that point he got out and got to the rock at the hole about 25 feet above Nokomis and found Jim's Boat and PFD recirculating in the hole. The boat still had the spray skirt attached and the general speculation is that he was pulled from his boat, and the PFD from him, by the hole above Nokomis.
John proceeded to Nokomis were he stood for about 15 seconds before spotting Jim in the river left eddy. He drop down to the eddy but was unable to reach him due to the depth of the pool and with risk to being pulled into Nokomis with Jim. Seconds after John got to the eddy, Jim was pulled back into Nokomis and John lost sight of him there. The rest regrouped at Nokomis, beginning with Mark and then Mike who helped John around the Nokomis eddy, and began the paddling, searching as they went down.
Upon reaching the Copper Creek confluence, John ran into three dirt bikers and asked that they go back to town and notify the authorities. Joerg and Mike also spoke with them and they asked them as well. They must have done that because as the group came to the take out at the South Boundary Road Bridge , after a search of the rest of the river, there was a yellow rope tied across the river on the upstream side of the bridge. The paddlers regrouped and gave statements to the police and spoke with the recovery personnel. They began their search at Nokomis and dredged that area until dusk.
While this was going on the US Coast Guard was searching the area with their helicopter and it's infrared eye which measures the temperature of the water and posts deviances from that as dots that they can relay to ground personnel to check. The Coast Guard made several passes, refueled and made a final three passes before dark. As the refueling happened, John was driven above and hiked down to Nokomis to help give an order of events and a last seen position to establish the search point. The search went until dark. Paul made the call to his wife, Karen, that evening and she was to drive up that night with other family members.
MAY 18, 2003
The search resumed at 7:00 A.M. the next morning with the State and Local Police and other recovery personnel. The paddling group had made the decision to put on the water the next morning to assist in the search. The paddling group consisted of the original paddlers from the day before with Ed Holladay paddling in Anett's place. We put on around 9:30 a.m. and ran to above Triple Drop and portaged via a 4-wheeler trail and hiked in below Nokomis. The paddling group, excluding John and Mike, went to talk to the personnel stationed at Nokomis where they said that Jim's body had been found by the helicopter about a 1/2 mile below Nokomis to the river right. The group put in and proceeded down the river right side.
About a mile down, at the confluence of Copper Creek, the group met with the recovery personnel and was told that Jim was just down river approximately 100 feet on the river right. The group proceeded to this point where Jim was found about five feet from shore with his arms entrapped under a log. Paul put a tether around Jim's waist and John gave him a Carabineer, attached to a throw bag rope, to clip to the tether. The other end of the throw bag was given to Joerg on shore to keep Jim from washing downstream as the arms were dislodged from under the log. John and Mike Dziobak lifted the log while Paul freed Jim and was met by a couple other members of the group to bring Jim on to the bank of the river. The recovery personnel had met on the river left side of the river from the group and had secured a rope to a tree there. Ed went to were they were and ferried over the other end of the secured line were Mike LaMarche and Joerg secure that end to a tree. Ed also brought a length of webbing to make a harness with which the group and recovery personnel could bring Jim to the other side. The group discussed the different ways to bring Jim to the other side and the decision was made to pendulum Jim to the other side.
Mike Dziobak and Chris formed a full body harness, and while they did this John faired over to the other side to let them know the plans of the operation and that they needed to move their end of the rope upstream, which they did about 50 feet, and gave them a pulley to use in taking up the slack at Jim came to that side of the river to avoid him going any further downstream. John ferried back over with a radio from the recovery personnel and at that point the harness has been completed and was ready to be attached to the rope going to the other side. Mike Dziobak attached the rope and Mike, along with Chris, moved Jim into the water. Ed and Brock had gone to the other side to assist in pulling the rope and Paul and Joerg were in their boats to follow Jim across. The personnel on the other side were notified and Jim was released into the water and with the personnel taking up the rope from the other side.
After about five feet the rope became snagged under a rock and Chris and John went in to free the rope. After freeing the rope the personnel took in the rope as the body moved across the river. At a point were the rope was at the right length to place Jim the most accessible eddy, the command was given to stop pulling the rope and Jim was gathered on shore by the recovery personnel, placed on a backboard, and into their trailer being pulled by a 4-wheeler. The rest of the paddlers ferried across and regrouped at the eddy where Jim was taken out of the river. A few moments were taken there, and then the paddling group proceeded down the rest of the river to the take out at the South Boundary Road Bridge . Jim was taken to the Ironwood Hospital were his wife and other family member were waiting.
This has been an objective account of the events of that day. There was much speculation as to the reasons why Jim did not swim from his boat. He had made a valiant attempt at getting out and was reported by Paul to have a smile on his face as he went in. According to Karen Jensen, Jim's wife, the autopsy showed evidence of a massive heart attack. Jim did not technically die from drowning.
Paddlers throughout the country were shocked and saddened by the death of 30-year veteran kayaker Jim Rada, who died following a thrashing on the Presque Isle River in Northern Michigan. Mr. Rada, 52, had pioneered the run decades earlier. That day he was on the river with a large group of friends from Minneapolis. According to an excellent report written by John Kiffmeyer, the water levels were moderate and the weather was fine. After scouting Class V Triple Drop, Mr. Rada ran third. He dropped into a large hole in the bottom drop and surfed for several minutes. After popping out, he made a few weak roll attempts. A safety boater rushed up and saw that he’d let go of his paddle and was not moving. Then Mr. Rada and his boat were washed into Class V Nokomis Rapid, which lurked at the end of a short pool. Here he was yanked from his boat by a large hole and his life vest was torn off. The group scrambled down the shoreline, but could do nothing. His body was seen briefly, floating deep in an eddy, but could not be reached safely. Then he disappeared. The group continued to search the area before paddling downstream to notify authorities.
The next day paddlers worked closely with state and local police to recover Mr. Rada’s body. A helicopter spotted him about a mile below Nokomis, trapped under a log. Paddlers released his body, attached a line, and swung him to shore. An autopsy discovered signs of the massive heart attack that ultimately overcame him.