Always Dress For The Water Temperature
Irina McEntee and Carissa Ireland May 16th, 2010 - Casco Bay, Maine
The water was calm and the weather was gorgeous and unseasonably warm when two young women, Irina McEntee, 18, and her best friend Carissa Ireland, 20, launched their kayaks for a short, round-trip paddle between Peaks Island and Ram Island in Casco Bay, Maine – a trip that Irena had made many times before. Irena’s parents actually had a view of the paddling route from their house on Peaks Island and saw both girls land safely.
Although Ram Island is only a mile across the water from Peaks Island, the location is exposed - to the East, South, and Southeast, there's nothing but open ocean, and neither Irena’s parents nor the girls were aware that the National Weather Service had issued a Small Craft Advisory for that afternoon with wind blowing out of the north - the direction that they had to paddle on the return leg of their trip.
Unable to make headway against the wind, Irena and Carissa were blown south and out to sea, where conditions were much rougher and they capsized in the very cold 48F (9C) water. Although they were both wearing PFDs (lifejackets), the only clothing protection they had was shorts and light shirts.
When they failed to return home on schedule, Irena’s parents could look out the window and see that conditions had become much rougher - and that there were no kayaks in sight. By then it was 2.5 hours before sunset.
Heartsick with worry, they called the Coast Guard, which responded by dispatching the 207-foot US Coast Guard cutter Campbell, launching a Jayhawk helicopter and Falcon jet from Air Station Cape Cod, sending out an emergency broadcast on Channel 16, and contacting their “local partners” - civilians with SAR capabilities in the Casco Bay area - thereby setting in motion what was to become a massive search operation.
As any pilot can attest, it's not easy to spot small objects from the air. At best, a person wearing a PFD will have only their head and upper shoulders exposed - not an easy target, even when the light is favorable and the water flat calm. The same goes for twelve foot blue-green kayaks.
When the sun set at 8;00 p.m., searchers were left with roughly 90 minutes of gradually diminishing twilight before darkness fell. Nevertheless, by 8:30 p.m., both kayaks had been located, floating in the open ocean roughly seven miles South of Ram Island, and about a mile SSE of Cape Elizabeth. One kayak was upright and contained a jacket and T-shirt; the other was upside-down. Irena and Carissa were nowhere in sight.
Search teams on the ground had initially concentrated their efforts on Ram and nearby Cushing Island, but found no sign of the missing women. With the discovery of the kayaks, the ground search moved South to probable landing areas on Richmond Island and Cape Elizabeth. When twilight faded into night, searchers began using aerial flares for illumination.
After a grueling all-night search involving the U.S. Coast Guard, multiple local agencies, and more than 150 people, Irena and Clarissa were found by the Coast Guard at 9:00 am the following morning, floating lifeless in their PFD’s, three miles offshore and seven miles south of their original destination.
Even strong and experienced paddlers can be overwhelmed by the wind, which is why they pay particular attention to Marine Weather Forecasts. This information is broadcast by the National Weather Service, and you can access it with an inexpensive weather radio – the kind you find at Radio Shack. This information is also available online and can also be accessed by most VHF radios.
Inexpensive, reliable, waterproof cell phone cases allow you to operate the phone without removing it from the case. You can also program your phone with the number of the closest Coast Guard sector.
High quality, waterproof, hand-held VHF radios can be purchased for under $150. The US Coast Guard continuously monitors emergency Channel 16 (the one you’d use on your VHF radio to call for help) as do many commercial and private boats. Most VHF radios also have an automatic weather alert feature that activates whenever an adverse weather broadcast is detected. They also link directly to Marine Weather Forecasts.
Finally, it's worth noting that their kayaks were found within three hours. This is why paddlers are advised to stick with their kayaks if at all possible.
Major Contributing Factors
Not Dressed For Water Temperature
Unable To Recover From Capsize
Unable to Call For Help
Unaware of Hazards
Being Complacent / Overconfident
Lack of Weather Awareness
Unable To Deal With Wind and Waves
No Light - Invisible At Night