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Christmas Gift Tryout Almost Ends in Tragedy for Amistad Kayaker


On Christmas afternoon, a man who had received a kayak as a Christmas gift was anxious to try it out, so he took it to the Amistad Reservoir at Amistad National Recreation Area, launched it, paddled out from shore, and ended up having an experience he will never forget. After his newly-acquired craft capsized and drifted away, he found himself struggling for his life in bone-chilling water. He was wearing a PFD, but several hours of immersion in the 60-degree water left him dangerously chilled.

Rescuers got to him in time, but it was a very near thing. Someone made a 911 call to the Val Verde County Communications Center after spotting someone in the water waving for help near the Highway 277 Bridge at the far eastern end of the park. Rangers Andrew McGahan and Matt Gilbert rushed to the site from different locations. McGahan arrived within minutes and spotted the man in the lake. Wearing an insulated "float coat," he swam out to the man, who was about 75 yards from the shore, and used a throw rope to tow him to safety. Gilbert arrived soon afterward to assist.

The rescued kayaker, who said he thought he'd been in the water for about two hours, was transported by ambulance to Val Verde Regional Medical Center after he was determined to be moderately to severely hypothermic. He was released after being treated for hypothermia and his kayak was recovered the next day.


Never, never go into the outdoors on your own. Who will go for help if you have an accident? Who will stay with you? Have a party of 3 at least. Enjoy your next kayak trip and don't let this one put you off.

Good day all,
While this story is interesting, it's incomplete. Things like the kayakers age, his experience(doubtful) and what he said about being so stupid would be nice. Far as I know this could be made up. I rather it wasn't even reported if it's so incomplete. I had to do my own research just to find out where it was supposed to have happened. It was a waste of time and with all the media sources today some editor should not have let this article fly. Andy from Arkansas

I share your frustration about the lack of details in this article, Andy-from-Arkansas. And since you brought it up, let me take this opportunity to point out a few relevant facts. I will leave it to you to decide what is weaselspeak and what is not.

(1) This incident was not "made up." It was an incident report in the National Park Service's NPS Digest (Daily Headlines). For you to suggest that we would include a made-up incident in Traveler tells me that you are not a regular reader and are unfamiliar with our standards.

(2) Before writing this item up for Traveler readers, I phoned the Supervisory Park Ranger listed as the "Contact information" individual at the end of the incident report. He had not been personally involved with the rescue and knew little beyond what was in the above-cited incident report. I left callback messages with several individuals at the park and at the main desk. I have yet to hear from anyone at the park in response to these requests. I am guessing that short-staffing during the holidays may have something to do with this.

(3) At of the time I posted that article, no media reports of the incident were available. Since no deaths were involved ion this particular incident, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that none eventuated.

(4) I was told that the kayaker was apparently inexperienced, but I did not report that because I could not confirm it.

(5) I did not, and will not characterize what this kayaker did as "stupid." I don't know the relevant facts, and neither do you. Anyway, it's bad manners.

You described this little article as "interesting," despite its lack of detail. We thought that Traveler readers would find it interesting too, and that is why we posted it.

You are most welcome to do additional research on your own time, Andy-from-Arkansas, and we'd ask that you share your findings with other interested Traveler readers. Our little three-person volunteer staff here at Traveler hasn't the time or resources to do in-depth followups on every incident that we report, but we do try to provide such relevant information as we can obtain.

I hope this has addressed all of your concerns. If not, please let us know.

Bob, you've done a good job addressing Andy's concerns, but I would like to say that the one weakness I find in NPT stories is that they rarely link to source material (e.g. press releases) nor state the source of the information. Sometimes I enjoy the detective work of figuring out where you got your information, but mostly I just find myself wishing you came right out and stated it, so people who want to do additional research at least know where to start.

Editorial policy regarding the use of source citations and hotlinks in webzine articles is something that evolves over time, Ranger. In Traveler's case, it has evolved toward fewer citations and hotlinks. Complaints like yours have been darn few and far between, so it seems that the present balance is about right.

I personally would hate for articles on NPT to turn into a regurgitation of other articles complete with hotlinks. Very few legitimate news sources would. Sometimes blogs primarily link to other articles. However - I do appreciate it when there is a link to an official document that might provide a decent background.

I don't believe that there's anything particularly wrong with going solo provided one knows his or her own limits. I've gone solo hiking and backpacking before. There's a certain feeling of going alone. I don't believe it's necessarily selfishness or foolhardiness.

Didn't mean the request for source links to be a complaint, only a suggestion. I just feel that an indication of the sources used in writing NPT articles would be a useful addition. If you don't like using in-line links, you could do something like what appears at the bottom of the page in Snopes (or Wikipedia). It doesn't have to be comprehensive, just a pointer or two for the reader who wants to dig deeper.

I certainly wasn't suggesting that NPT "turn into a regurgitation of other articles." The great majority are not, and it is the additional research, as well as the excellent and thoughtful writing, that keeps me checking the site daily, as well as regularly recommending to coworkers that they do the same. However, if one has access to InsideNPS, one can see that a certain percentage of NPT articles are indeed little more than regurgitation. This "regurgitation" is a valuable service for those who cannot or will not troll InsideNPS, and I definitely think it should continue.

Trying to cover 394 units of the National Park System on a daily basis with what boils down to one or two full-time individuals on any one day is a daunting, if not impossible, task. As a result, we do at times turn around press releases with little massaging. It's just not humanly possible to provide the widespread coverage the Traveler offers any other way.

That approach allows us not only to provide diverse coverage of the system with a minimum of three new posts a day, but also gives us time to develop longer pieces, such as the Traveler's Checklists, puzzles, and Creature Features and book reviews, more developed features such as the look at how the Park Service is dealing with white-nose syndrome, digesting Government Accountability Office reports, interviews with authors and newsmakers, special series such as Fall in the Parks, etc., etc.

Some features can take days or weeks to develop, in part because our efforts to provide the broadest possible coverage fills our days casting our nets for those items. As noted in "About the Traveler," we follow commonly accepted journalistic practices, and we strive to cite our sources, be they park press releases, or releases from other groups, or our own interviews. And we provide links when appropriate and helpful and attach reports to our stories when possible.

As for access to InsideNPS, we do not have that; it's restricted to NPS staff. We do, however, have access to the agency's Morning Report and news digest, which are two good sources of information.

One of our overall goals is to offer, on one website, broad coverage of the national parks and the National Park Service. With the continued support of sponsors, and outright donations from readers who appreciate what we offer and the work it takes to produce that content, we hope to continue to grow in staff and and internally generated coverage. But there always will be a constant flow of short items drawn heavily from news releases.

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