Autopsy indicates hypothermia cause of kayakers' deaths in Lake Superior
LOYAL, Wis.—Preliminary autopsies done on a father and his three children who died Thursday after the kayak they were in capsized on Lake Superior indicate that the four died of hypothermia and possibly drowning.
The dead include Eric Fryman, 39, and his three children, Kyra, 9, Annaliese, 5, and Jansen, 3, all of Loyal, Wis. The children's mother, Cari A, Mews, 29, also of Loyal was the sole survivor.
According to Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan, preliminary results from the autopsy conducted by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office in Minneapolis indicated that Eric Fryman died of hypothermia, and the three children died of hypothermia and possibly drowning.
Brennan said the investigation remains open pending the results of toxicological tests, although he said there was no reason to believe that the tragedy was anything but a boating accident.
Brennan said the skipper of the USGS research vessel Kiyi, which found Mews said the water temperature was 68 degrees at the surface at the time of the rescue.
"The indications are that they capsized shortly after about 4 p.m., and she wasn't found until 10:07 p.m. That's six hours in the water; that is quite a long time to be in the water at that temperature," he said.
Brennan said Mews told him after she was rescued that she had attempted without success to call 911 right after the tandem kayak they were paddling from Madeline Island to Michigan Island capsized.
"She also called the Coast Guard, but the service wouldn't go through. She called 911 again and she said it went through, but there was nobody there," he said.
Brennan said the Gogebic County Sheriff's Department in Michigan said they received two phone calls that were broken.
"The message said something about two kids kayaking, and then it went dead," he said.
Brennan said when Gogebic County dispatch officials pinged the call to determine where it came from; the electronic response indicated that it came from Madeline Island.
Officers then checked the area indicated by the ping signal, and then checked the water near the area.
"But there was nobody at that address and nobody in the water that they could see.
At 8:29 p.m. Ashland County received a call from Cari's sister Bobi Jo Mews reporting that she had received a text message at 7:45 p.m. with the words "911" and "Michigan Island."
The message had been sent shortly after the kayak capsized, but it didn't finally get delivered for nearly five hours, because of the lack of any cell service at the location of the incident.
"She used a find-my-phone app and that placed the call off of Michigan Island in the water," Brennan said.
Bobi Jo Mews gave Ashland County Sheriff's officials the address of where the family was staying on Madeline Island, and a Town of La Pointe police officer checked the location, finding no one at the location.
"The lights were on and it looked like someone was living there, but there was no one there," Brennan said.
"The Kiyi was in the area, and they turned around and went back to help in the search. Also involved were personnel from the Apostle islands National Lakeshore, as well as Bayfield Fire and Rescue team members. A Coast Guard helicopter from Sault Ste. Marie was also involved in the effort.
"The two children were found first; they were found north of the area where Cari was found, off of Michigan Island. The first two children, Jansen and Annaliese, were found at 12:15 a.m. and 12:20 a.m. respectively, and the father was found at 12:42. The remaining child, Kyra, was found shortly after 10 a.m.
The attempted trip would have been difficult even for experienced paddlers, officials say.
Bob Krumenaker, superintendent of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis for a story published Sunday that it was a sobering reminder of the vastness and danger of the largest of the Great Lakes.
"Some of the places that people want to go kayaking are incredibly attractive but also deceptively dangerous," he said. "This particular incident happened in a place that is not often traversed by people on kayaks, and for good reason."
Paddlers crossing open water between islands can become exposed to strong winds and waves, he said. Storms can also come up fast, he said, although the one that struck Thursday was predicted in advance.
Gail Green, director of Living Adventure, an outfitter near Bayfield that specializes in kayak tours of the Apostle Islands, said open-top kayaks like one the family used are good for calm, sunny days close to the shore, but can fill with water and capsize in rough conditions.
Krumenaker said lake-crossers should practice capsizing and recovering; something Green's company does with paddlers before overnight trips.
"You need to have a healthy respect for how cold the water can be," he said.