North Face Founder Dies of Hypothermia After Kayak Accident

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

A Kayak accident and subsequent hypothermia led to the death of The North Face founder, Douglas Tompkins. The tragedy highlights the dangers of cold weather boating and need for proper safety.

kayak accident representation from boating accident attorneysKayak accidents are among the many types of boating accidents that can transpire. Though kayaking is a fun pastime, it certainly has its fair share of dangers. Unfortunately, those dangers can often be fatal if a kayak accident ensues.

Our boating accident attorneys were saddened to learn about a kayak accident last week that led to the death of Douglas Tompkins, the founder of the outdoor clothing and equipment company, The North Face. Tompkins died on Tuesday, December 8, while kayaking in Chile at the age of 72.

According to news reports, the kayak accident occurred in Chile. Tompkins and a group of five others were kayaking on General Carrera Lake in Patagonia when a wave caused his kayak to flip over, leading him to fall overboard into frigid waters.

After the kayak accident, Tompkins was taken to a local hospital but was pronounced dead just hours later. Health officials say the official cause of death was hypothermia, a condition brought on by exposure to cold weather or water and which causes abnormally and dangerously low body temperature. Tompkins’ body temperature was listed at 66 degrees Fahrenheit upon being taken out of the water – more than 30 degrees below what is considered the “normal” body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit by WebMD.

Our boating accident lawyers have often talked about the dangers of hypothermia for those who enjoy sailing – be it a boat, kayak, or personal water craft.

Hypothermia can strike very quickly, and in many cases can prove fatal. Because a victim’s body temperature can drop rapidly, it’s important for boaters to take action immediately when they or someone in their party begins to develop symptoms. But first, it’s imperative for any sailor to understand what the warning signs of hypothermia are.

Some of the most common symptoms associated with hypothermia include drowsiness, hunger, increased heart rate, confusion, dizziness, slurred speech, loss of coordination, and nausea. Victims may display one or more of these symptoms, but sometimes, the signs may not be so obvious because the condition can gradually develop. Even mild shivering or a minor decrease in energy can signal the possible onset of hypothermia.

Because victims may not even realize that something is wrong, it is up to other members in their party to take swift action. The best thing anyone can do to help a potential hypothermia victim is to move them to a warm and dry location if possible, and to do so gently. Do not try to rub the person or make any jarring movements, as this may trigger cardiac arrest. Next, remove any wet clothing, wrap the victim up in blankets, and offer them a warm de-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverage to help increase their body temperature. You may also apply a warm (not hot) compress if you have one, but only to the neck, chest wall, or groin areas. Refrain from applying the compress to the victim’s arms or legs, as this will force cold blood back toward their internal organs and lead to a further (and possibly fatal) drop in their core temperature.

As soon as these actions are taken, the next step is to ensure the victim obtains prompt medical attention. Send an S.O.S. to notify Coast Guard emergency crews if you aren’t near land. If you are within reach of the shore, call 911 so that paramedics can hopefully meet you when you dock. If you’ve already docked and are close to a hospital or health center, rush the victim to the facility as quickly as possible so they can attain proper medical treatment.

When victims of hypothermia are treated quickly, there is a very good chance of recovery. As with any kind of boating accident, prevention is always key. It’s important to note that water doesn’t have to be frigid in order for hypothermia to develop. If you do plan on sailing in cold weather, be sure to bring along a change of clothing, blankets, warm compresses, and life jackets, which can all help increase a hypothermia victim’s survival rate.