If it hadn’t been for a hot pink kayak, a recent mishap on Yellowstone Lake likely would have ended in tragedy.
As it was, tour boat captains Troy Siegel and Mike Young ended up helping pull a man, a woman and their two small dogs from the lake earlier this month, all because Young spotted the pink kayak from about a half-mile away.
“Normally we’re just focused on doing our tours, but that hot pink kayak is what really got my attention,” Young told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.
He’s glad it did.
“I can’t imagine what it would have been like pulling into the marina after the tour that day and hearing, ‘Hey, did you know somebody just died out there on the lake?’ That really would have weighed heavily on me,” he said.
Gesturing For Help
Young and Siegel have decades of experience as tour boat captains. They began working for Yellowstone National Park Lodges last year, running tour boats out of the Bridge Bay Marina. They work as a team – trading off between piloting the 50-foot, 46-passenger tour boat and narrating the tour.
On July 16, they were headed out on a Sunday afternoon tour, Young was piloting and Siegel was narrating.
Off in the distance, almost too small to see with the naked eye and perhaps a mile from shore, he spotted the pink kayak, and thought he saw movement.
He grabbed the binoculars he keeps near the boat’s control panel, and got a better look. It appeared that a person in the kayak was gesturing frantically.
Siegel let the passengers on the boat know they had a situation to check out, and Young turned the tour boat toward the kayak and hit the throttle.
As they approached, they saw a woman was in the pink Kayak with two small dogs. A second kayak, capsized and swamped, was tethered to her watercraft.
And about 50 feet away, a man was bobbing in the lake. He had a lifejacket on. Even so, Yellowstone Lake is notoriously cold – about 55 degrees – frigid enough to kill a person in about a half-hour.
Siegel said that during the rescue and afterward, the couple really didn’t give many details about how they ended up in the predicament – but he was thankful they’d thought to wear life jackets.
“I want to say – and I cannot stress this enough – that because he was wearing a life jacket, that’s probably what saved his life,” Siegel said.
‘Hypothermia Is A Strange Thing’
Siegel said that he and Young never did learn the couples’ full names or where they were from, but they appeared to be about 35-45 years old.
The man was clearly suffering from the cold, but still had enough strength to pull himself up the tour boat’s ladder, Siegel said.
But his condition got worse, Young added.
“Hypothermia is a strange thing. It kind of progresses even after you get out of the water. He started to shiver more and turn blue,” Young said.
Other Boats Show Up
Young and Siegel surmised that the couple might have gotten caught in a windstorm that had ripped across the lake just a while earlier.
Young said the couple had apparently struck out from the shore near the Lake Lodge, and were trying get to Stevenson Island – about two miles out in the lake. They had made it about halfway to the island when the man’s kayak capsized and swamped.
Young said he put out a “man overboard” mayday call, and the response was quick.
Fellow marina employees Gregor Woodruff – who is an EMT – and Elijah Luna showed up in a 25-foot boat and took the man aboard so they could zip him to an ambulance waiting on the shore. And an angler in a small fishing boat also showed up to help.
‘Barking, Snarling Demons’
Getting the two small dogs onboard the tour boat was relatively easy, young said.
“I wanted to get the dogs on board first, so they wouldn’t panic if we took the woman onboard and left them alone on her kayak,” he said.
“They had on pet life vests, and those have a loop on the pack. So, we were able to catch the loops with our boat hooks and lift the dogs on board,” Young said.
The dogs were docile as they were being plucked from the kayak, but once onboard the tour boat, they “turned into snarling, backing demons” and didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody except their owners, he added.
“I imagine those dogs were probably pretty scared by the entire experience,” Young said.
Once the woman was safely aboard, they headed for shore.
They were both taken to a clinic, where the man was warmed up and recovered quickly, Young said.
“They came by the next day to pick up their kayaks,” he said. “They were thankful, but they didn’t really have much to say to anybody. I think they might have been kind of embarrassed by the whole thing.”
‘All Very Scripted Stuff’
Young and Siegel said it was the first emergency incident they’ve had to handle since they started working on Yellowstone Lake.
“This is the first time we’ve had to render assistance,” Siegel said. “Although we rendered assistance, I think they real think that saved that man is the fact they he was wearing his life jacket.”
Young said the tour boat crews conduct “man overboard” drills every month, and the training paid off.
“This is all very scripted stuff that we did,” he said. “There was nothing that we had to make up on the fly.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.