Chicago Kayak Co. evacs clients in storm
More than 60 kayakers had to be evacuated or rescued from the North Branch of the Chicago River when high winds caused some of them to capsize on July 1. But while the Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago police and firefighters pulled the kayakers to safety near downtown, the tour operators said they got their own clients off the water quickly and without a single injury that required hospitalization.
Nevertheless, the two kayak tour companies involved were issued municipal citations after allowing people onto the river despite weather advisories, the newspaper reported.
Dave Olson of Kayak Chicago, one of the two tour operator involved, wrote a lengthy account of the incident that appeared on the website of the Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association. He wrote that the paddlers, including 58 guests and eight American Canoe Association-certified instructors/guides, set out on an architectural history tour after on-land orientation starting at 10 a.m. The tour was scheduled to end at 1 p.m.
Olson said grey skies prompted him to check radar at 12:03 p.m., at which point he learned of the approaching windstorm. (He said he found out later the National Weather Service issued a warning at 11:30 a.m.) Olson said his guides, equipped with marine radios and safety equipment, were quickly instructed to bring everyone in per the company's safety protocol.
The Tribune quoted police saying 30 kayaks capsized. But Olson wrote that only five boats turned over and the Chicago Marine Unit was involved in assisting only two of those rented from Wateriders, the other kayak tour company.
"I wasn't shy. I called 911," Don Abrams, general manager for Wateriders, told the Wall Street Journal. "We needed help. It wasn't about pride at that point."
All the kayakers were wearing life jackets at the time.
"None of Kayak Chicago's guests were assisted in any way by the Chicago Marine Unite or Chicago Fire Department, both of which were on the scene in their boats," Olson wrote. "They (police and fire officials) made the situation sound 10 times worse than it was. They never even made mention of the fact that our guides did the majority of the rescues."
Because of the incident, Olson said he now requires his staff to check local weather radar every half hour.
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