Traverse City Record-Eagle

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July 17, 2013

Kayaker drowns in Lake Michigan

LELAND — A Leland summer resident died after his kayak overturned in Lake Michigan, and 2013 appears to be shaping up as another tragic year on northern Michigan waters.

The death of Robert J. Womac, 70, on Tuesday was the second this month in Lake Michigan off Leelanau County, and the third such death determined to be a “dry drowning” — in which cold water closes off airways — in the Grand Traverse region this summer.

Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said Womac was kayaking with another man — Dale M. Hathaway, 81 of Northville — when a large wave overtook their kayak about 100 yards from shore near North Omigisi Beach Road. He said a witness called 911 at about 4 p.m. and reported the kayak was upside-down and two victims were in the water.

Womac wasn’t wearing a life preserver, he said.

“The other rider was,” Borkovich said.

Hathaway managed to swim to shore uninjured after about 45 minutes in the water. Medical Examiner Matthew Houghton said Hathaway told authorities the water was “glass calm” when they left from Womac’s summer home off Leland Woods Drive, but winds soon whipped up 3-foot waves that capsized their kayak.

“It threw them about 20 feet from the boat when they went over,” he said.

Borkovich said a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was able to locate the victim. Rescue boats from the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Department, Glen Lake Fire Department and Leland Fire Department also assisted.

“The Coast Guard was able to locate the victim in the water, at which time marine Deputy Richard Blake jumped into the water, secured the victim and brought him up alongside the boat,” Borkovich said.

Womac was declared dead at 5:45 p.m. after rescue crews determined it was too late to resuscitate and brought him ashore in Leland Harbor. Borkovich said Womac spent his summers in Leland, but is a permanent resident of downstate Belleville.

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