JUNEAU, Alaska — A tourist with a sharp eye led to the rescue of a man who overturned his kayak, which was taking on water and sinking in the middle of Mendenhall Lake, about a mile and a half from shore.
The visitor, who hasn’t been identified, was scanning the lake through a telescope in the observatory room of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center when he saw the man flip over in his kayak last Friday, the Juneau Empire reported.
“I was just going around talking to visitors when one man just came to me and said, ‘Hey, I see a kayaker that has flipped over in the lake,”’ Nicole Tyra, a visitor center employee, said. “I immediately rushed to the scope, tried to find him and saw exactly that: one person in the kayak, and another person in the water.”
She alerted her boss, who called 911.
Capital City Fire and Rescue was able to reach the kayaker, Robert Eison Sharclane, 39, just as he says he began to black out from hypothermia. Officials said the lake was at 37 degrees. Sharclane’s young son was in a separate kayak that did not overturn.
“I was deciding what my last words were going to be to my son,” he said. “Those were the thoughts that were going through my mind.”
He said the water had been choppy and the kayak had almost tipped several times. It finally did so when a gust of wind and a wave hit him at the same time.
He said the kayak was too small for his 6’3” and 236-pound frame and was too top-heavy.
Sharclane said the wave and wind caused him to slowly tip over into the water.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is really happening,”’ he said.
Once in the water, he immediately untied the sinking kayak from his 7-year-old son’s kayak and he was only kept afloat by his life jacket.
Sharclane, a devout Christian, said he prayed for a rescue the entire time.
“I remember thinking, ‘God, you’re going to have to rescue me. I’m out here all alone.”’
He knew it was too far to swim to shore since he could barely feel his arms or legs.
“I felt so sad and I thought, ‘Please, don’t let me die in front of my son. Please don’t let him witness this,”’ he said.
He was beginning to lose consciousness when he saw the fast-moving rescue boat approaching.
Sharclane said he remembers hearing the voice of one of his rescuers.
“That’s when I kind of just relaxed,” he said, “because I felt someone just grab me really strongly.”
Fire Marshal Dan Jager estimated that Sharclane had been in the water about 20 minutes.
Members of the rescue boat crew removed Sharclane’s wet clothes and began rubbing him dry with cotton towels. He was taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital and released later that night.
“He’s a very lucky person,” Jager said. “A kid still has a dad.”