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Duluth firefighters rescue capsized kayaker

A Duluth kayaker says he would have been dead without the quick action of firefighters who rescued him Tuesday from Lake Superior. "The Duluth firefighters are my heroes," said kayaker Marshall Hansberry. "I would be dead right now if not for the...

Rescue
Duluth firefighters help a rescued kayaker out of their boat on a beach near Fitger's Brewery Complex. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

A Duluth kayaker says he would have been dead without the quick action of firefighters who rescued him Tuesday from Lake Superior.

"The Duluth firefighters are my heroes," said kayaker Marshall Hansberry. "I would be dead right now if not for their skill."

Hansberry, 24, was starting his summer break Tuesday with a plan to paddle from the Rose Garden area to the lighthouse and back, as he has done many times before.

For the first 30 minutes, all was well.

Then he said he got caught up in high waves near the Fitger's

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Brewery Complex.

"I tried for shore, but the waves were much too dangerous for me to go against the motion of the lake," he said. "I tried to ride some of the waves closer to shore, and I was flipped."

At that point, Hansberry said, he was trying to hold on to the kayak and was out there long enough to become a bit delusional. He said he removed his life jacket thinking it was hurting his ability to hold on to the boat.

"That was a bad idea, in retrospect," he said.

Hansberry remembers at one point noticing that people on the Lakewalk were gathering to watch him, and believing help was on the way kept him fighting to stay conscious.

"I saw a little boat show up and, after that, I just remember being at the hospital," he said.

Emergency personnel told him he was probably only a few minutes from unconsciousness.

The call for the water emergency came in about 2 p.m., and firefighters launched a boat within 11 minutes, said Bob Noldin, acting assistant fire chief. They motored out to Hansberry, who was hanging on to his overturned kayak about 200 yards off shore, Noldin said.

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Hansberry was brought to shore below the Portland Malt Shoppe, loaded on a Gold Cross Ambulance and taken to Essentia St. Mary's Medical Center. As he was rescued, Noldin said, Hansberry was conscious, thankful and very cold.

He reportedly was hypothermic and wasn't able to tell firefighters what had happened.

Greg Oftedahl was biking along the Lakewalk at the time and said he noticed Hansberry having trouble.

"It appeared as if he was trying to right his kayak," he said. "It seemed like he may have gotten too cold and his muscles wouldn't work."

Noldin said other witnesses also said they could see the man and that they heard him calling for help.

Once on shore, Oftedahl saw the man peeling off wet clothing.

"Fortunately someone saw or heard him right away," Noldin said. "Had he been hypothermic enough and gone under, it would have been a whole different story."

The Coast Guard recovered Hansberry's kayak.

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Hansberry said he was treated for hypothermia and exhaustion and was told his body temperature was 88 degrees when he arrived at the hospital. He was released from the hospital Tuesday night.

His advice to other kayakers: "Wear your wetsuit."

Related Topics: LAKE SUPERIOR
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