Accident Database

Report ID# 98333

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Does not Apply
  • Inexperience

Accident Description

Mother was paddling with child in one recreational kayak, and within a group of six. All of group, including child, were wearing pfds. Mother flipped on an unseen obstruction. When she surfaced, she could not find her child, and raised alarm. The craft stayed inverted, but moved away from the reach of group, and became lost. 

The ensuing alarm was heard by two persons who were nearby, but not on water. The two persons ran downstream, trying to find the child/kayak. About 1/2 mile downstream, Austin Angell and Halie Peters located craft. Austin noticed a hand visible on the side, and righted the kayak to find child, who had become entangled within gear/deck cords. Child was then taken to hospital and checked.

Conditions: The Rogue is a very popular trip for recreational paddlers in the lower SW corner of Michigan. Media accounts detailed 'high water,' but a check showed that flow was only slightly higher than normal on the gage. Michigan had flooding over much of the Lower Peninsula during the previous week, but water flows in the area had dropped from high conditions. The water was still very turbid, and mostly brown in color. The weather was mostly sunny and clear; vegetation creates deep shade on the banks.

When the mother's kayak overturned, there was an immediate search for child. Searchers were notably looking for child in pfd. Mr Angell and Ms Peters immediately started searching downstream, and to see if child or kayak became snagged on underbrush. The boat was located an estimated 1/2 mile downstream by Angell.

Analysis The original boating party knew of water levels, and had previous trips on this section for familiarity. They made sure of pfd usage for the whole group. The group had no training in search or kayaking; which is extremely common for recreational boaters in this area. While water levels were slightly higher than normal for this time of year, paddling at flood flow reported by media was an incorrect assumption.

One clarification from the rescuer was that the child was entangled more with the seat and branches than with the deck cord. The kid was not tethered to the boat, either. Most of the immediate party searched at the overturn site, as they were looking for child/pfd. They did not realize being caught underneath. Rescuers have now also caught up with mom; all now doing fine.

Grand Rapids, MI

Boy, 3, trapped under overturned kayak rescued in Kent County

Posted May 25, 2020

KENT COUNTY, MI — Austin Angell showed up at the Rogue River late Sunday afternoon hoping to get his brand new kayak in the water for the first time. And while he never managed to get his kayak wet, 30 minutes after arriving at the river, he and his friend Halie Peters found themselves a half mile downstream saving a life instead.

Angell said he was out of his car only a moment when he heard screams coming from the parents of a 3-year-old boy, who he and Peters eventually saved. The family had been kayaking near the Childsdale Avenue Bridge in Plainfield Charter Township, according to a Facebook post from the Plainfield Professional Fire Fighter’s Union Local 3890. The family’s kayak overturned at around 5 p.m. May 24. 

Angell and Peters arrived on scene mere seconds after it happened. The kayak, with the 3-year-old child still inside, was already out of sight and downstream, Angell said. Immediately, Angell said, he ran to the riverbank and started shouting, asking what color the boy’s life jacket was and what color the kayak was, and then he and Peters took off running. “A lot of people were there and were looking upstream from where they tipped and that didn’t make any sense,” Angell said. “Halie and I were the only ones that went downstream.” Angell said, while the firefighter union’s Facebook post says the kayak was only an eighth of a mile downstream, they definitely found themselves closer to a half mile away from where they had planned to launch upon arrival.

It wasn’t easy locating or getting to the kayak either, Angell said. As there is no trail along the bank of the river, Angell and Peters had to run along a trail uphill and out of sight from the river before cutting through the woods and down to the river, and then head back up and down again until they spotted the kayak, he said. Once they located the kayak, it still took a couple minutes of running through calf-deep mud before they could get to it. When they found it, Angell said, the kayak was “capsized and water was rushing over the top of it.” "I got real freaked out and Halie and I started praying immediately, hoping he wasn’t in there."

Angell said both of them immediately jumped into the water and the first thing he saw was the boy’s arm sticking out from the kayak, not moving. "I started screaming for help, and when Halie got in the water behind me and lifted the kayak up, I reached in there to pull the safety harness netting and right when I did that I felt that kid grab my arm. “That was the best feeling I will ever have in my entire life.”  

Angell estimates the water was about six feet deep where the kayak came to rest against a fallen tree. There was a small air bubble between the floor of the kayak and the water, which allowed the boy — who was wearing a life jacket — to stay afloat and continue breathing, he said.  “If the river were wasn’t as high as it was, the tree never would have been in the water and the kayak would never have been stopped by the tree,” he said.

The firefighter’s union commended Peters and Angell for their quick actions in its Facebook post. “If it wasn’t for their quick actions, the outcome would have been much worse," the post said. The union is also discouraging anyone from boating on the river at this time, stating that “the water is moving very fast and conditions are unpredictable.” An attempt to get in touch with the boy’s family was not immediately successful.

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