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Survived - Thanks To Wearing A Life Jacket
by Pamela Doty, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
May 19, 2019

During November, there’s something about celebrating Thanksgiving that makes me think of things I’m thankful for even more often than other months. I’ve read many survival stories from people who are thankful to have been saved by a life jacket.

Graphic by R.J. Garren, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Graphic by R.J. Garren, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The following story that I’m sharing is from Cochiti Lake, Park Ranger Nicholas Parks of New Mexico.

On Friday, November 4, 2015 around noon, Mr. Nedley Lundquist of Albuquerque, NM, decided to visit Cochiti Lake to launch his new kayak and fish. In all his years of enjoying fishing, he had never been kayaking before.

He spent the afternoon kayaking and fishing the lake. In the late afternoon, he headed to the north end of the lake, and at approximately 4:00 p.m., near the south end of the Rio Grande channel, he capsized. Mr. Lundquist was wearing an automatic, self-inflating life vest, which immediately deployed. He lost some of his gear, including his keys and cell phone.

The water was very cold, and since Mr. Lundquist could not right his kayak quickly, he decided to swim for shore. Mr. Lundquist stated that he believed at one point he would likely drown from hypothermia.

Then he quickly decided that  ... "as a Marine I may die, but not from giving up." With a lot of determination and his life jacket, Mr. Lundquist made it to shore.

However it was after sundown. He was shivering, could not move his limbs and his hands were so stricken by the cold that he could not even unbuckle the clasp on his life jacket. Eventually, he just had to cut the webbing to remove it.

Mr. Lundquist took shelter in a small cleft in the rocky shore and shivered all night. He did not sleep. As the sun came up the next morning, he was able to warm up enough to scramble up the hillside. Wet, freezing, tired and hungry, he was able to finally make it to a road west of the park entrance.

Thankfully a local Good Samaritan, Ms. Sue Stanke, was out for a morning drive when she noticed him disheveled and walking along the road. She drove him more than 50 miles back to Albuquerque, to clean up and get a spare set of keys, and then drove him back to the lake.

This is a remarkable survivor story. This combination of novice skills and colder water temperatures could have been deadly if Mr. Lundquist had not been wearing a properly-fitted life jacket.

Fall is a beautiful time to enjoy our nation’s waterways when many boaters have stored their powered vessels for the winter and things are much quieter on the water.

However, paddlers must prepare for cold-water conditions and dress for the water temperature because human-powered craft are more likely to capsize. Wearing layers of clothes could help you survive ending up in cold water. Clothing should never be removed until you get out of the water. Wet clothes and shoes do not weigh you down while you’re in the water; they are only heavy out of the water.

It’s vital to always wear a life jacket and carry a dry bag of essentials, even if you’re going out for a short trip. It’s never a good idea go paddling alone. If that’s your only option be sure to share your float plan with someone so they know where to find you and when you’re supposed to return.

Following these simple steps, even though you may think they’re not needed, could make you thankful someday.

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