Warden: Victim in fatal kayaking accident on Geneva Lake was a novice and not well-equipped
LAKE GENEVA—Kayaking can be a fun summer activity, but paddlers need to understand the weather conditions and carry the right equipment, a state recreational safety warden says.
Poor paddling conditions and shoddy equipment might have contributed to the death of a kayaker in Geneva Lake on Thursday evening.
Twenty-one-year-old Ramese Huerta and a 21-year-old woman were kayaking near Covenant Harbor Bible Camp when Huerta's kayak tipped over shortly before 6:30 p.m., said Jason Roberts, a warden who works for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The water temperature was 54 degrees, and the air temperature was in the low 60s at the time, Roberts said.
At some point, the woman's kayak tipped over as well, leaving them stranded in the water roughly 150 feet from shore, Roberts said.
Neither Huerta nor the woman had personal flotation devices, he said.
A man walking near the shoreline heard their screams and dove into the water, swam out to them and pulled the woman in. By the time he reached the shoreline with the woman, Huerta had gone under water and did not resurface, Roberts said.
First responders arrived on the scene within the hour and tried to resuscitate Huerta but were unsuccessful, according to a Lake Geneva Fire Department news release.
The woman is being treated for hypothermia, Roberts said.
While 54 degrees might not seem terribly cold, being submerged in 54-degree water can cause hypothermia, Roberts said.
The accident is being investigated as a drowning, but the Walworth County Medical Examiner has not issued an official cause of death.
The water temperature likely played a role in Huerta's inability to swim to shore, Roberts said.
Dr. James MacNeal, EMS coordinator for Mercyhealth, said hypothermia can be difficult to treat.
“It depends on how cold the water is, how much air exposure you have,” he said.
Hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperature drops to an unsustainable level. The heart becomes irritated and eventually develops an irregular beat that proves fatal, MacNeal said.
Roberts said a friend loaned the kayaks to Huerta and the woman. They were poor-quality, sit-in kayaks that are prone to tipping.
Huerta and the woman were not experienced kayakers, and the conditions were not appropriate for learning, Roberts said.
His word of warning to kayakers: Be aware of water and weather conditions and always bring personal flotation devices with you.