Fatal Florida Kayak/Canoe

Posted by Ice - Phil on Mar 9, 2005

Just read this on another board and I think it is worth posting here what with all the 'should'ves & could'ves'. We weren't there and have very sketchy facts. I have read everything I can get my hands on this and I am sorry that I am too inexperienced to read between the lines to form a factual opinion (e.g., How experienced were the lost boys and the other paddlers, Did they in fact have a VHF, What were the weather conditions when they left considering that they were skirting the shore, Did anyone have any flares or were there flares on the disabled escort boat, etc., etc.,etc. Wait and see what comes out at the USCG hearings.

"SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT Posted by: hhdavis on Mar-09-05 8:21 AM (EST) -- Last Updated: Mar-09-05 8:22 AM EST -- It is now 6:00 in the morning. I have just finished reading every message submitted regarding the tragic events that occurred in Florida over a week ago.

Clearly, there has been a tremendous amount of speculation about the conditions surrounding these tragic events. The purpose of this statement is to not only set the record straight, but to put further doubts to rest.

Only 2 short years ago was I myself a student at this high school in Rome, Ga. In fact, I have known the leader of this trip for some time. My soccer coach for 4 years and a close family friend for as long as I can remember, "Meester" (as his students affectionately call him), is truly one-of-a-kind. Not only do I know him personally, but many of my friends have had the pleasure of taking one of his Orr-Trek trips. For this reason, I feel that it is my responsibility, no, my obligation to set the record straight.

Upon receiving a phone call informing him of the events taking place, my father immediately tracked down small private plane and headed for the coast of Florida. He, along with a small number of faculty members from our school, arrived even before the boys' own families. The entire group had access to only one phone; little to no cell phone service was available. It was nearly 10 hours after his departure when I first heard from my father.

I wasn't sure what I thought, or hoped, he would say first, but what I heard, to say the least, was completely unexpected. "Meester did absolutely everything he could do for those boys. He paddled in extremely dangerous conditions for nearly 4 hours before being pulled out of the water by the Coast Guard. Baby, he just did everything he could."

To clarify misunderstood portions of the AJC article, Meester DID NOT sit back until the boys' light faded away. This statement was made by a student whose was in one of the canoes that had been tied together. At that point, Meester along with another experienced kayaker had been looking for quite some time.

Before those critical of this leader's decisions write me off as being blinded by my personal loyalty and love for this man, there is something else you must know: The reason my Dad flew to Florida that Sunday afternoon wasn't for Meester. It was for his best friend, the father of one of the now-desceased boys.

I have read all of your comments as well as nearly every article written in response to this tragedy. If anything is to be learned from this ordeal, it should be this: The only thing that Meester is more passionate about than leading these trips is sharing his passion with his students. So, the question here should'nt be, "How could this have been prevented?", rather, "Where do we go from here?". Having had the priveledge of knowing one of these boys personally, I feel certain that this is what he would have wanted.

At the memorial service for Clay (one of the boys) last Friday, nearly every member of our school and our community packed into our small school chapel tp both mourn our tragic loss and to celebrate his wonderful memory. In case you were wondering, Meester did this sitting right beside Clay's family. They, nor Clay, would have wanted it any other way."