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Missing kayakers found safe on Great Salt Lake after 6-hour search (+video)

ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK — Two missing kayakers who were on the Great Salt Lake without life jackets when stormy weather rolled in were found safe early Friday after nearly six hours of searching.

Three men, all in their 20s, had begun kayaking about noon Thursday, according to a statement from Devan Chavez, spokesman for Utah State Parks.

The three friends had planned to kayak about 15 miles between islands that day, said Weston Barnett, one of the kayakers. But around 3 p.m., the weather took a turn for the worse and the waves started getting larger — some as tall as 7 feet tall, according to Chavez.

“We were like ‘Dude, let’s just bail and end it early and go to Antelope (Island State Park),’” Barnett recalled Friday. “We were going there but the waves just kept getting bigger and bigger, and I was like ‘Oh, this is not going to be a good time.’”

That’s when the three kayakers became separated from one another.

Two missing kayakers who were on the Great Salt Lake without life jackets when stormy weather rolled in were found safe early Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, after a nearly six hour search.
Two missing kayakers who were on the Great Salt Lake without life jackets when stormy weather rolled in were found safe early Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, after a nearly six hour search.
Jay Hancock, Deseret News

As Barnett paddled, trying to stay afloat amid the waves, his kayak began to take on water. About 5:30 or 6 p.m., by his estimate, it capsized. Luckily, Barnett had an inner tube, which he used to float after his kayak went under. But as the cold water splashed around him, he said, he wasn’t optimistic.

“I was convinced I was going to die the entire time ... until finally I saw a point coming off the island,” Barnett said. “I was like, alright, I can live.”

He floated several more miles in the tube toward Antelope Island, as rescuers continued searching and a helicopter circled overhead. Barnett started yelling “yee-yee,” he said, a phrase he believes is good luck — and later learned that the searchers in the helicopter had been able to hear his yells.

“I guess in the helicopter they heard me,” Barnett said. “And I was like, alright, that’s some next-level yee-yeeing.”

By the time rescuers got to him, he said, he’d reached rocks on the west side of the island. It was just after midnight.

“That’s pretty much a real life Xbox achievement, if I played Xbox, but I don’t,” Barnett said.

Meanwhile, one of his friends had been able to reach Antelope Island around 7:30 p.m. and call for help, according to parks officials. That friend was not seriously injured.

The third friend, who Barnett said lost both his tube and his kayak, was found in the water just south of where Barnett was rescued at about 1:30 a.m. Friday, Chavez said.

Park rangers, as well as officers from several police agencies — including the Davis County, Tooele County and Weber County sheriff’s offices, and the Utah Department of Public Safety — all participated in the search using multiple boats, vehicles and a helicopter.

Both of the missing young men were taken to Davis Hospital for treatment.

By Friday evening, Barnett said he was feeling “pretty decent,” though his legs and tongue were sore.

Chavez said the third man was responsive when he was rescued, but his exact condition was not released Friday.

Contributing: Pat Reavy

Two missing kayakers who were on the Great Salt Lake without life jackets when stormy weather rolled in were found safe early Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, after a nearly six hour search.
Two missing kayakers who were on the Great Salt Lake without life jackets when stormy weather rolled in were found safe early Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, after a nearly six hour search.
Erik Bornemeier, For the Deseret News