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Posted on Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Kayaker rescued from Huron River after capsizing, clinging to tree

By Sven Gustafson


Ann Arbor police and fire rescue personnel helped a man who clung for safety to a tree after his kayak capsized Saturday on the Huron River.

Photo courtesy of Deb Mozurkewich.

A 33 year-old Northville man’s float down the Huron River turned frightening Saturday after his kayak capsized and he clung to a fallen tree in the icy water until being rescued.

A caller notified the Ann Arbor Fire Department at 5:30 p.m. of the incident at 1055 Longshore, near Argo Park and the Argo dam, said Battalion Chief Robert Vogel, who was not part of the shift that responded to the incident.

The man clung to the branches until fire and police personnel arrived and extended a ladder to bring him to shore. He was later transferred to the University of Michigan Health System for treatment of possible hypothermia.

Northfield Township Supervisor Deb Mozurkewich posted the photo of the rescue operation, above, to’s Facebook page Saturday. She and firefighters said the man became entangled in the tree after the kayak he was paddling flipped.

“When I arrived he was yelling ‘help, I can't hang on, I'm going down’ his fellow kayaker and a passerby Good Samaratian (sic) helped save his life. It was the most chilling scene I've ever come across. Ann Arbor's Finest Police and Fire departments were there in moments and he was brought to shore safely. He can thank a lot of folks for saving his life today.”

Contact freelancer Sven Gustafson at sventg123(at)gmail(dot)com, or follow him on Twitter.



Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 2:41 a.m.

This time of year the river is a baddy daddy lamatai tebby chai!

Sven Gustafson

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

I'd like to offer my apologies to Tru2Blu76 and everyone else for my unprofessional response here on the comments thread. I went beyond the bounds of civility, and for that I am truly sorry.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 7:13 p.m.

Happy that the area is able to provide rescue to citizens stuck in a situation such as happened. However, I count at least NINE emergency personnel, and there may be more not in the photo. We do need appropriate coverage, but do we need that many people? There is a shortage of emergency personnel, let's use them wisely.

Tony Dearing

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.

I apologize to our readers for the comment posted by Sven in reply to Tru2Blu76. This is not how we want to engage our readers. I have discussed this with Sven and I am confident this will not occur again. We are accountable to our readers, and we encourage you to talk to us, to challenge us and to criticize us. The feedback is healthy, and we welcome it. In turn, we want to answer your concerns, and to do so in a way that is polite and constructive. Anything other than that is not acceptable. As for the way we cover breaking news, we monitor the police scanner and social media, and if we become aware of a situation, we get a reporter to the scene. However, there are many occasions we and other media do not become aware of something until making our police rounds later. When we become aware of a situation based on a police or incident report filed later that day or the next day, we gather as much information as we can, but that information may be quite limited, particularly on weekends. This is a challenge that all news organizations face, not just us. We understand that a report based on sketchy information is unsatisfying to our readers and feels incomplete. We seek to follow up on our initial report as more information becomes available, and stories are often updated or we publish a new post with more details. If you read a story on that doesn't have all the details you are looking for, we welcome you to challenge us on that, and your questions help guide our reporting as we seek additional information.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.

@ Mr. Gustafson: No problem at all with the article, but re: "I'm eager to see the new whitewater cascades they have created," THEY HAVE NOT CREATED ANY WHITEWATER! As with the last article in, which called these "Cascades" a "Kayak Feature," people are getting the wrong idea. The "Cascades" are a non-whitewater bypass -- basically a fish ladder -- that allow boaters to get from Argo Pond down to the river below. But the "Cascades" create absolutely no opportunity for whitewater play. The plan was to build a whitewater course later, in the main river below the dam. The "Cascades" only allow a tiny, tiny portion of the river's flow through them, and could never amount to anything. The whitewater construction was rightly postponed until after the DTE cleanup, but I have heard that the DNR doesn't want to set a precedent of building in rivers, and does not want to allow construction. I emailed the author of the previous article (was that Mr. Stanton?) asking him to look into that, but I have read nothing since. Many of us are concerned that the current push to call the "Cascades" a "Kayak Feature," "whitewater," etc. is a PR campaign to take heat off the City for not removing the dam, as it should have. We're afraid that we whitewater paddlers have been sold a bill of goods, since the promised whitewater course was the only reason we reluctantly supported leaving the dam in place. Could you update us as to the status of that promised whitewater?


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.

Also @ Mr.Tru2Blu: Re: "...advising against this seasonally dangerous activity," I am a firm believer in learning how to paddle, and learning how to assess risks on the river. So, keep off the river until you have acquired some skills? Yes! But that can be taken too far, as when all paddlers were forbidden to put our boats in the water a while back (was it June, 2009?), after a big storm. My wife and I were forced to take our two solo canoes to Dexter High School and put in there. We might have been able to put in by the Fire Station, but we didn't want to risk being enjoined by emergency personnel to stay off the river. Great day to paddle, though... IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING! 90% of the paddlers on the Huron are clueless, and they can get away with being so since the Huron is a relatively mild, safe river most of the time. High water levels can make it interesting, though!


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

Mr. Tru2Blu evidently got up on the wrong side of bed. I can't figure out the reason for his instant rage upon reading the article. Nor can I understand Mr. Goldsmith's rage that you were not actually there at the time this happened. But some specific facts for Mr. Tru2Blu: Re: "It seems very odd that trees were lying on the surface: IF the depth was more than 3 feet." Mr. Tru2Blu doesn't know rivers. We paddlers call these things "strainers." They are quite common, especially around this time of year. You will see dozens of them if you go out paddling for an afternoon. With their roots still embedded in the eroded bank, and some of their branches pressing against the stream bed, it is not at all odd that they are "lying on the surface," and as a matter of fact, they often stay there for years. These strainers present much more danger than rocks do -- water flows around rocks, but it flows through strainers, and getting caught in one is an extremely common cause of paddling deaths. As for, "Even in fast water, a full size man can walk in water 2 to 3 -feet deep water (sic)," that's another dangerous thing to do. Anything over ankle deep can be tricky in fast water, although that stretch isn't as fast as some. But getting a foot caught between a couple of rocks, then getting knocked over by the current and drowning, is another fairly common cause of whitewater deaths. Again, this stretch isn't that bad, but there's no sense in spreading untruths. [More in another post, can't handle long posts.]

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

Good lord, aren't there any responsible adults in charge of your reporting staff? Lol.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3 p.m.

Ok al, I think everyone gets the point.

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

"Unfortunately, I was working with a distinct lack of information about this incident, relying on Ms. Mozurkewich's thoughtful post on our Facebook wall and the sparse notes left from Saturday's shift at the fire department for the Sunday battalion chief. (Yes, it happened on Saturday, when I wasn't on duty or available to spend my entire day walking around with my camera, hoping to be exactly at the right place, at the right time for news to spontaneously break.) Sometimes, you just have to go with what you've got, as any journalist who compiles police blotter items knows. " Wow, this reply from a 'reporter' stands as a classic. Lol. Does it qualify as bashing a commenter?


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

Did i read correctly that this article was written based largely upon a facebook post? I guess this explains why i read this site primarily for the reader posts...

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

"Thanks so much for writing! So sweet of you. Please note the spelling of my last name: It's GUSTAFSON. It's right up there at the top, easy enough to copy. Oh, and wait — I notice you don't even make yours available (that's a neat user name, though). And not even a real photo? That's courageous." Class, real class. This article DOES lack much basic information, much like many stories. The difference between the quality you get from hiring a freelance 'news' reporter and having fully trained staff. Perhaps with your next piece you can focus your attention on reporting and not bashing a commenter. And I'm a real person and in the phone book. Good lord.

Ron Granger

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

I especially love the responses here from the folks who apparently don't get off their couches and on the water.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

Use of the river in this area is only going to increase as people travel to see the cascades. It should be the user's responsibility to educate oneself, but the City would probably do itself a favor by holding safety training if they don't already. What happened here was simple negligence resulting from ignorance. If one knows the dangers and what to avoid, doing so is relatively simple and easy.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

I just looked up a photo in my album because this story sounded very familiar. In March 1974 our family was in that same exact location when a canoe capsized in the fast spring current and the canoers were clinging to a bit of branch hanging out into the middle of the river. They too were terrified and about to be swept away. The firemen came but they waded in with wet suits and ropes, tying off to a nearby tree. We watchers were all glued to the spot until the rescue was complete.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 11:24 a.m.

The story wasn't clear, but was the ladder that was extended to rescue the man one of those that the Mayor said the Fire Department doesn't use that often? If it was, I'm guessing the man in the water would be saying "PRICELESS".


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:37 a.m.

Was the kayaker wearing any thermal protection? If not: then bill him for the rescue. Since that information wasn't supplied (no one thought to ask or offer), it's hard to say with certainty. Also, what is the water depth were he capsized? It seems very odd that trees were lying on the surface: IF the depth was more than 3 feet. Even in fast water, a full size man can walk in water 2 to 3 -feet deep water. An experienced person in decent condition knows to work with the current: this poor fellow seems to have relied on instinct and calling for help from others. Any reason he was kayaking under these conditions alone? If has facts to counter this then go ahead and block this post for "blaming the victim" - but remember who "set up" for the post to begin with. As usual, there's a notable lack of information in an article of interest. Sadly disappointing. Not even a hint of public safety information (like advising against this seasonally dangerous activity). Mr. Gustavson: So it's that easy to sell a piece as a free lancer now? Geez, looks like it's time for me to get back in the game. The editors I used to know expected free lancers to be at the scene, to take (& provide) photos. That was in the days before digital photography, too. Yer gonna get fat doing it the "new way." - I might recommend taking regular strolls down the banks of the Huron River: it's highly aerobic and educational if you're going to write stories connected to this river. Take a camera along... and a tripod.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 8:27 a.m.

Mr. Gustafson, just trying to be complete -- So I should take it that is unable to mount a credible journalistic business. No sarcasm: the results are remarked upon regularly by readers. That's disappointing. I genuinely hoped for the best from the start. Lower expectations: check. Don't ask about information gaps: check. Never puzzle over situations reported here: check. Understand that things just happen here: check. Disengage interest, there's nothing to see here: check. I should feel unburdened. I guess that'll take a while. Thanks for straightening me out.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 6:59 a.m.

Mr. Sven Gustafson, I can't blame you for responding to the sting of my original post as you have. I too am particular about the correct spelling and pronunciation of my name. Be assured that a typo does not reflect carelessness or disrespect. I DO usually copy-paste names but, like you, am a bit rushed most of the time. And of course, by now, you've considered that people like me, experienced in matters of Web security, limit access to our personal information. OTH: snide remarks about my web anonymity AND my adopting the universal practice of using an icon (in this case, a portrait of Ben Franklin) mischaracterizes me and our respective obligations. A journalist's obligation to identify themselves is unquestioned. If you're interested to know my name & contact info, try asking Tony Dearing since he and I have exchanged email and phone calls and even had face-to-face talks since got started. That is, if he keeps records of such contacts. I've always included both my screen name and real name (and phone #) in correspondence with him & former employee, Stephanie Murray. You're welcome to contact me at any time, I'm always interested in the who-what-when-where & why of Ann Arbor. The kayaker: you might see why I asked about the location from the photo: I see at least 2 rescue workers out about 15 feet from the bank and the "subject tree" appears to be in less than waist deep water. So it's a complete puzzle why this poor fellow needed rescuing. We have a family member who's in Fire-Rescue and I'm familiar with such situations and resultant questions. He's in another county but I know all family members there keep scanners and track each call response. Hope you find sources as good as he is. I've run out of space...!


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 4:15 a.m.

I know this will be deleted eventually, but Mr. Gustafson's response is absolute proof about the unprofessionalism of journalists and their affiliates.

Sven Gustafson

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3:19 a.m.

Dear Tru2Blu76, Thanks so much for writing! So sweet of you. Please note the spelling of my last name: It's GUSTAFSON. It's right up there at the top, easy enough to copy. Oh, and wait — I notice you don't even make yours available (that's a neat user name, though). And not even a real photo? That's courageous. Your question about what the kayaker was wearing is pertinent and one I wondered about as well. Unfortunately, I was working with a distinct lack of information about this incident, relying on Ms. Mozurkewich's thoughtful post on our Facebook wall and the sparse notes left from Saturday's shift at the fire department for the Sunday battalion chief. (Yes, it happened on Saturday, when I wasn't on duty or available to spend my entire day walking around with my camera, hoping to be exactly at the right place, at the right time for news to spontaneously break.) Sometimes, you just have to go with what you've got, as any journalist who compiles police blotter items knows. Lastly, in addition to writing more in-depth, commissioned stories for, I help out a few Sundays each month making cop calls, editing stories and essentially catching whatever might have fallen through the cracks from the weekend. In the few hours I worked today I also tracked down some employees of bars on South University to interview for our story on the unruly St. Patrick's Day crowds and wrote an Ypsilanti crime brief about indecent exposure reports. And between you and I, I ran 10 miles this morning before I started my shift, so I'm not especially worried about the whole getting fat/aerobic exercise thing. How many did you run? Anyway, I'm eager to see the new whitewater cascades they have created on the old impound pond. I used to jump off the railroad trestle there above the dam (kids: don't do it) and slide down the spillway using the canoe cushion/floatation devices back in high school. Good times. Thanks for the opportunity to connect!

Kai Petainen

Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 10:42 p.m.

don't send a bill. it was a good exercise for the emergency personnel.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

It looks like he put in just below Argo Dam (not on the new Cascades side). The current construction project has opened access for this section of the river where DTE will be putting in new whitewater features. Unfortunatley, as the picture shows, there are a lot of downed trees in the water along that side of the river. Fast water and large obstacles do not mix well. The city needs to clean up those trees otherwise this won't be the last rescue here. Glad he is OK.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

If that is the case here, then I can accept that. The city should then consider placing some warning signs here. With the curve of the river just below the dam, those putting in here are completely blind to what obstacles await them around the curve. Even experienced kayakers should consider walking the headrace first to identify any new obstacles placed in the river along this section.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 12:55 p.m.

The current logjams are not a result of the tree removal from the earthen berm. These logjams have been in the water for years.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

The DEQ mandated Argo dam work included removal of many trees along the raceway. It seems that some of this work may have contributed to the current log jams.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

It is against the law to remove the logjams. These obstacles provide habitat and cover for fish.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 8:14 p.m.

wow, do you think the fire department will send this person from Northville a bill for use of our equipment and firefighters? how many fire stations is northville closing?


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

When you think about it a second, this near-tragedy is actually a hopeful sign And we have global warming to thank for it. Typical mid-March weather annually stirs some ice fishermen to a kind of vernal ecstasy. Coast Guard helicopters rescue them from floes and their own mindlessness. With this magnificent spring, however, we now have to worry about unprepared kayakers causing incalculable damage to the goby spawn. Just around the corner, this also means mimes clog the sidewalks.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

I'd like to hear how "unprepared kayakers" do incalculable damage to goby spawn by needing a rescue that took all of two hours. I'm not sold.