COCHITI LAKE, N.M. -- Even in remarkable, cold-water situations, life jackets save lives. The Corps always emphasizes this through its Water Safety Program. The following incident gives a clear illustration of why the Corps focuses so much on the use of life jackets.
On Friday, Nov. 4, 2015, at about noon, Ned Lundquist of Albuquerque, NM, decided to visit Cochiti Lake to launch his new kayak. He had never been kayaking before.
He spent the afternoon breaking-in the kayak. He appeared to be the only one out on the lake boating. In the late afternoon he headed north on the lake, and at approximately 4:00, near the south end of the Rio Grande channel, he capsized. In the commotion, Lundquist lost some of his gear, including his keys and cell phone.
Lundquist was wearing a type V self-inflating life vest which immediately deployed. The water was very cold with a surface temperature of approximately 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Lundquist could not right his kayak and decided he needed to swim for shore.
The swim seemed grueling, and at one point even impossible, Lundquist said. He said that he believed at this point he would likely drown from hypothermia. Then he quickly decided that “as a Marine I may die, but not from giving up.”
With his handy life vest and a lot of determination Lundquist did make it to the western shoreline of the lake. At that point the sun had set. He could not move his limbs. His hands were so cold that he could not unbuckle the clasp on his life jacket. Instead, he was forced to cut the webbing with a knife he had.
Being unable to move his legs properly, Lundquist took shelter in the lee of a rock. He did not sleep - he shivered intensely all through the night.
As the sun came up the next morning, it warmed him at his position along the shoreline. He was then able to clamber up the hillside and reach a road west of the Cochiti Lake recreation area entrance.
A good Samaritan was out on a morning drive when she noticed Lundquist disheveled and walking. She stopped, asked if he needed help, and he related the gist of what had happened.
She drove Lundquist to his home in Albuquerque where he retrieved a spare set of keys for his vehicle and cleaned himself up. She then drove him back to the lake, where he found Park Ranger Nicholas Parks working on the Dam Crest trailhead. Lundquist then related his story to Parks.
Parks said, “It is a remarkable story. I told him I was glad he survived, and that it is always good as a beginner to boat when others are boating.”
When Cochiti Lake Project Manager Mark Rosacker heard about Lundquist’s experience, he agreed that wearing a life jacket was why Lundquist survived. “I feel that it is safe to say that he would probably not have survived his very first kayaking experience if he was not wearing his PFD/life vest when the accident occurred.”
One of the main things emphasized in the Corps’ Water Safety Program is that despite skill level, no one can be prepared for everything out on the water. So always wear a life vest, it's proven to save lives!