Monday, June 13, 2011

Kayakers Rescued Off Aomori

I learned of this rescue while researching another, totally unrelated story.

Three weeks ago a married couple and two other men, all serving with the US Air Force at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Japan (the far northern prefecture of Honshu island), rented some kayaks and launched into the ocean.

When they did not return by late afternoon, an informal search was started. When they were not found by next morning, authorities were contacted. The US Navy sent up a C-12 aircraft (Beech King Air for us civilians) which was flown at lower than usual altitude in hopes of improving the chance of spotting the kayaks. The JMSDF launched a P-3 Orion along with Sikorsky UH-60J search and rescue helicopters, while the Japan Coast Guard sent out surface vessels.

Bottom line, the four were found and pulled aboard a Japan Coast Guard boat after being spotted by the P-3 and C-12 and then helicopters.

They were clinging to their overturned kayaks some ten miles (TEN MILES!) out to sea. For an inkling as to how hard it is to see objects on the surface of the ocean from an aircraft, take a look at the US Navy photo below taken from the C-12 and showing the kayaks being approached by a helicopter and the Japan Coast Guard boat.

The kayakers were suffering from hypothermia after so long in water, which I would have to guess would have been around 50 to 55°F, but happily had no other issues. (A fellow pilot of mine on Maui spent a similar amount of time in the water in a life vest after ditching his single engine plane and suffered the loss of bits of flesh from his legs and feet upon which large fish had nibbled).

After this rescue, the US military made sure that restrictions on ocean activities, which the Japanese government had initiated after the March 11 tsunami, were applied to US military personnel as well. Yes, they can go to the beaches and bays manned by Japanese lifeguards, but open ocean adventures in the quake affected area are out for now.

More importantly, the lessons we should take away from this incident are to never engage in a moderate or greater risk activity (anything on, in, or over the water in my opinion) unless you are experienced with it or accompanied by someone who is, and have a plan and a schedule that you leave with someone on shore who will notify authorities if you don't get back on time. These folks were lucky in that their vehicles were found on the beach where they launched, giving rescue units a starting point for planning search patterns. In addition, the US military and the Japanese government responded with an amazing array of equipment and rescue personnel who prevented this outing from ending in tragedy for several families.

Be safe out there.

Until next, sweet sailing.


bonnie said...

Wow...they were indeed lucky.

The ease of use is, in some ways, both one of the best and the worst things about kayaks.

I may have to expand on that in a post this week.

Frankie said...

It sounds mad that any one can think of kayaking out to sea. It probably stems from these people who paddled across the Pacific some years back. Not heroes, as far as I'm concerned, just lunatics!

Pandabonium said...

Bonnie - that's true. More people have trouble on kayaks than sailboats. May be the reason.

Frankie - well, these folks weren't trying to cross the ocean, they just got into trouble due (perhaps) to wind and currents. People don't realize how fatiguing it is to paddle against the wind - even a seemingly light wind - for any length of time.

Martin J Frid said...

Great story, glad they were safe. Well, have to say, whoever named it "The Pacific" obv. had something to gain from not letting the truth out.

The people who sail or kayak west of Hawaii and east of Japan ought to be skilled and very careful skippers. What is their story?

Pandabonium said...

Martin - unfortunately, none of the reports I read went into their kayaking experience or plan for that day.

Having spent a lot of time paddling a "sit on top" kayak in Hawaii, I can tell you it is very easy to get into trouble if the wind pics up (and it usually does). I always checked weather carefully and made the outbound leg of my trips upwind, so I'd have it at my back while returning. Mostly I went out in early morning and tried to return before any wind got started (something which is somewhat predictable in Hawaii).

I am speculating, but I would guess these folks just went out to paddle along with no intention of getting very far off shore.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Lesson: Never go to sea w/o (1)mast (2)sail (3) keel (4) rudder (5) booze.

Pandabonium said...

Doc- LOL!

Arkonbey said...


I was especially creeped out by the short account of your friend's accident. That sound like a harrowing story.

VW: asiderm: a rather stupid elephant.

Pandabonium said...

Arkonbey - my friend Mark came through OK with not too many bites. He was saved by hammerhead sharks in a sense - it was the large number of them circling his position that allowed him to be spotted! You can read about his ordeal (and lessons learned) here: Pacific Island Flyer

bonnie said...

WOW. Amazing about the sharks!

bonnie said...

ps - agree with what you said about these kayakers probably getting in trouble with winds & currents - I immediately pictured them getting pushed out by an offshore breeze. Those can be particularly tricky when they come off the land at a height, as would happen with an even slightly steep shoreline - that leaves a sheltered stretch of water that can lull paddlers into complacency until they suddenly find themselves out being pushed out to sea because they passed from the quiet in the lea of the land out to where the wind has dropped to the surface. That line can be pretty sharp.