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Cruise passenger dies in kayaking accident near glacier

Posted: July 16, 2012 - 4:48pm  |  Updated: July 17, 2012 - 12:00am

A cruise ship passenger from Texas who joined three other family members on Mendenhall Lake Sunday died after the kayaks overturned during the outing, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson said.

Erin Uloth, a spokeswoman for the Tongass National Forest, says 62-year-old Michael Ray Fullerton died late Sunday afternoon.

She says a group of family members from a cruise ship rented kayaks to take onto the lake, at the foot of Mendenhall Glacier. She says at some point, Fullerton got tired so the group tied the kayaks together. She couldn’t say how many of the three kayaks overturned, or why that happened.

She said the group flagged down a canoeist for help, and Fullerton was in the water about 30 minutes. She said he was wearing a life jacket.

The Forest Service is leading the investigation.

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center director Ron Marvin said safety is key when kayaking on that lake, but knowledge is also very important.

“When I think about people kayaking on the lake I think it is a wonderful activity to do, but you really should be familiar with using a kayak,” Marvin said. “Because if you turn over in this cold water your ability to swim to shore or be rescued is very limited. I always tell people to be familiar with how to rescue yourself in a kayak and make sure everybody is somewhat skilled in kayaking before you go out here, because of the cold water.”

There isn’t a certain set distance or safety zone around icebergs per se, according to Marvin. However, it is important to know that icebergs will roll at any time, even when grounded. If a person is near or on an iceberg when it rolls, that person will probably end up in the water.

Also, getting close to the glacier face is not advised as calving events, both above and under the water (shooters), can cause immediate danger by either physical contact or the resulting waves produced by ice movement.

“You want to be really careful with how close to the face of the glacier you get,” Marvin said. “Years ago when the glacier had a much higher face and was further into the lake, calving events could create big waves that could be a threat to those on shore. That is really rare now but I am not going to say it can never happen. So if you are out at Nugget Falls and you see a big calving be sure to be aware that there could be a big wave associated with that. It can always happen.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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