Two men are dead, and a man and a woman were airlifted to hospital following a weekend kayaking accident in Howe Sound, northwest of Vancouver.

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The kayakers were thrown into the cold waters of Howe Sound by rough seas driven by high winds.

Close friends have confirmed that 40-year-old Denis Fontaine from Deep Cove,and 50-year-old Richard Juryn of North Vancouver, both experienced adventure racers, died after their kayaks flipped in the stormy waters of Howe Sound on Sunday at about noon.

Fontaine's common-law-wife, Cheryl Beatty, and another man, Graham Tutti, were also taken to hospital following the accident, and then later released.

The four were part of a group of eight adventure racers taking part in an all-day training exercise in Howe Sound. They were on their way back to Porteau Cove on the mainland when two of the four double kayaks capsized — throwing four kayakers into the stormy waters of Howe Sound.

The survivors reported storm conditions with waves up to two metres high, but no one in the group was wearing a wetsuit.

Survivor describes how accident unfolded

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Bob Faulkner, a participant in the kayak disaster, said none of the group had life-jackets or wetsuits, despite the storm conditions. ((CBC))

Bob Faulkner was one eight kayakers involved in the incident.

He told CBC News that after running up a hill on Anvil Island, the group was heading back by kayak to Porteau Cove. Before they set off, he said he had concerns about the stormy weather and steep waves, but said nothing to anyone except Beatty. The group then set out into the extremely rough seas.

"When I say extremely, I'm talking about seven-foot swells and 85-, 84-kilometre-an-hour winds," said Faulkner.

The group decided Fontaine and his wife were the strongest paddlers, and that the couple would remain at the back to make sure everyone was safe, said Faulkner.

Unstable racing kayak flips

But he said while Fontaine and Beatty were in an unstable racing kayak, the rest of the group were paddling in more stable sea kayaks. When the boats turned at the south end of Anvil Island, trouble began, said Faulkner.

"When they made the turn into the run with the weather, the boat flipped, so Denis and Cheryl ended up in the water," said Faulkner.

Beatty was soon washed away from her boat in the wind and waves. One kayak set off to rescue her. The other group of two kayaks stayed with Fontaine, who decided he would get in the centre hatch of one of the other kayaks and paddle with them to Porteau Cove.

By that time, said Faulkner, everyone knew they were fighting for their lives.

Faulkner said the kayak carrying three men was very unstable and soon capsized as well, throwing the three men into the water. He and his paddling partner decided they could not help the men without further risking their own lives, and decided to keep going to Porteau Cove to get help.

Faulkner said the three men left in the water were exceptionally fit, and that he believed they would attempt to swim to shore. But all were wearing lightweight athletic tights suitable for high-energy training, and not wetsuits necessary to survive in cold water.

Meanwhile, the kayakers who rescued Beatty decided to tow her back upwind and return to Anvil Island, Faulkner said. After that kayak reached the island, the men lay on top of Beatty to try to warm up her severely hypothermic body, while they called for help and then waited for a search and rescue hovercraft to arrive.

Search involved four vessels and two aircraft

Three coast guard vessels, a hovercraft and two helicopters were called in to help with the search along the stretch of water south of Squamish and north of Horseshoe Bay.

"We got a call from the Squamish RCMP that we had some kayakers in trouble that had flipped off of Anvil Island. We were dispatched to Porteau Cove," said Don McPherson, a superintendent with B.C. Ambulance Services.

A hovercraft eventually picked up the three kayakers who made it to Anvil Island. As it was transporting them to a rescue helicopter at Porteau Cove, the crew spotted the bodies of Fontaine and Juryn floating face down in the water.

A witness who was camping near Porteau Cove said he watched as rescuers pulled people from the water.

"From down here by the campsite, we saw two bodies being pulled out. I don't know if they were alive or not," said Peter Rogal.

"Then we walked down to the parking lot because the kids wanted to see the helicopter and that's when we heard what had happened."

The third man, Tutti, was picked up alive. Both Tutti and Beatty were airlifted to hospital, along with the bodies of Fontaine and Juryn.

Because of their fitness levels and their low body temperatures, it was thought there was a slim chance Fontaine and Juryn might be revived at the hospital, but by 5 p.m. local time,they were declared dead.

Corrections

  • A survivor said the eight kayakers were wearing personal flotation devices. The original report said they were not wearing lifejackets.
    Oct 09, 2007 12:30 PM PT