Kayaker survives New Year’s Eve paddle " despite hypothermia | SierraSun.com

Kayaker survives New Year’s Eve paddle " despite hypothermia

Kara Fox
Sierra Sun

The year 2006 could have ended tragically if the U.S. Coast Guard had not found a hypothermic kayaker who had become lost on Lake Tahoe New Year’s Eve.

At 2:30 p.m. Dec. 31, the U.S. Coast Guard station in Tahoe City received a call from the California Highway Patrol reporting a woman had called 9-1-1 saying she was cold, tired and lost, said Joshua Martin, executive petty officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Tahoe City station.

The woman, identified by authorities as Gina Gardner, had left Tahoe City Marina by herself in a small, inflatable blue kayak and became tired of paddling while on her way to Emerald Bay, Martin said. Her age and residence were unknown by authorities.

The Coast Guard launched a boat out to Emerald Bay eight to 10 minutes after receiving the call and sought assistance from the Placer, Washoe and El Dorado counties’ sheriffs departments, as well as from the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, Martin said.

At 3:03 p.m., the woman had still not been found and a Careflight helicopter was called to search for her. At 3:17 p.m., the Coast Guard decided to launch a second boat when the helicopter couldn’t locate her.

Martin said searchers were able to contact Gardner by cell phone after several failed attempts, and located the nearest cell phone tower to determine her location.

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The Coast Guard’s second boat headed north at 3:38 p.m. toward Carnelian Bay, where the cell phone tower was located, Martin said.

They also launched flares and sirens to see if the woman could see them, but the woman was “very disoriented and she said she was so cold she couldn’t move,” Martin said.

Global Positioning System coordinates from her cell phone were used to find her location and Gardner was ultimately found by the second U.S. Coast Guard boat at 4:36 p.m., five miles off the shore east of Homewood Mountain.

“She was hypothermic and mumbling and couldn’t talk,” Martin said. “The cold from the water will suck the heat out of you through the kayak. She was lucky.”

Martin said “the winds took her out into the lake” and then she became disoriented, which is why she couldn’t find her way back.

Gardner was taken to Obexer’s Marina and then by medivac to Tahoe Forest Hospital. She was treated and released and returned to the U.S. Coast Guard station on New Year’s day to thank the crew and to pick up her kayak, Martin said.

“It is very rare for us to have cases this late in the year. You never know when someone will get in trouble. The winds pick up quick and so do the waves” Martin said. “If we hadn’t reached her, she would have died. We know we saved a life on New Year’s Eve.”