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Lawsuit filed in 2012 student kayaking death on Rock Lake

WATER SPORTS — A city parks instructor manual appears to ban city-sponsored kayak trips in the kind of weather that led to a chaotic and deadly excursion organized by Gonzaga University and sponsored by the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. 

Christopher Gormley, 18, died from hypothermia after his kayak tipped in the frigid waters of Rock Lake on a notably windy day during the spring break trip on April 1, 2012.

Insight offered on Rock Lake kayaking tragedy comments

PADDLING — Today's S-R news story with details about the Gonzaga University student who died on an April 1 kayaking trip at Rock Lake was balanced by two men willing to step forward and talk about safety issues involved with cold-weather/water paddling.

No one involved with the accident would speak on the record for one reason or another, but Jerry Cessaratto and Dennis Andrew of the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club allowed me to interview them on the protocols for a group paddling trip in cold conditions.

Take the 10 minutes required to view the video on cold-water immersion (above), Andrew suggests.

My editor had to shorten the newspaper story to fit the layout puzzle in the paper. In doing so, it may have left the edge that Andrew was criticizing the city parks trip leaders. While many people will do so, Andrew was not criticizing, he was analyzing and offering the perspective of what he teaches in the annual three-session sea-kayaking class he coordinates in late June.

Click “continue reading” below for the unedited ending my story published today. Keep in mind that even this was boiled down from two 15-minute interviews and does not include their comments on the need for outdoor groups to:

  • Check weather reports.
  • Assess the situation in the field
  • Assess the gear and experience of everyone on the trip.
  • Factor in remoteness and conditions.
  • Have a contingency plan.
  • Stay together
  • Have a toolbox of options for emergency and rescue.