‘I Had To Make It For My Family’: Kayakers Swim, Tread Water On Great Salt Lake For Over 7 Hours

Sep 23, 2019, 9:35 PM | Updated: Jul 16, 2023, 3:36 pm

FRUIT HEIGHTS, Utah – Longtime Davis County friends Weston Barnett, Jacob Thompson and Ryan Casey had all planned to hop islands while kayaking around the Great Salt Lake last week. As the group began traveling from Carrington Island to Fremont Island Thursday, they said the weather took a sudden turn.

“About seven miles in, the waves started picking up,” Casey said. “At that point, we decided to bail on the idea of going to Fremont because the waves were pushing us to Antelope.”

Not long after, Casey said the three got separated. Being the most experienced kayaker, he decided to make a push toward Antelope Island to call for help.

“I kept getting lucky, and whenever the waves would tip me, I was just barely managing. But my kayak was getting filled up quick,” Casey said. “I took off one of my shoes and I started using it to bail water out in between the monster waves. I’d look behind my head. I’d be steering, and then when I knew I had a little break, I would just bail water as fast as I could.”

Casey eventually made it to shore, where he called 911.

“I was safe, but it was just a lot of stress, waiting on them,” Casey said. “There’s no way, with them having worse kayaks and less experience, that they’re going to be able to stay up. So I knew for a fact that they were in really bad situations.”

He was right. Both Barnett’s and Thompson’s kayaks had capsized. As Barnett told KSL in an interview Friday, he floated in his inner-tube until around 1 a.m., when he managed to make it to shore, near rescuers.

‘I’m A Dead Man’ – Kayaker Rescued After 8 Hours On Great Salt Lake Shares Story

Thompson, however, had nothing.

“My tube got blown out of my hands and was like 100 feet from me within seconds,” Thompson said. “I didn’t know if anybody made it or not. I honestly thought that we all had been capsized and that we all probably we’re not going to make it.”

Casey spent hours wondering if his friends would make it back alive.

“And then we got word that Jacob’s tube had washed up on shore, inflated, without him,” Casey said. “That was a horrible feeling.”

Thompson said he swam for several hours, trying to bridge the roughly nine-mile gap between him and the shore of Antelope Island.

“When it became nighttime, I felt myself starting to become unconscious, like I started falling asleep. Some waves would like crash into me, and it would wake me up,” Thompson said. “I’d think to myself, ‘I can’t fall asleep or I’m going to drown,’ and so I just kept on swimming, kept on moving.”

Thompson said at one point he even saw a rescue boat pass by him.

“I was really out of it though,” Thompson recalled. “I didn’t know if they were real or not, or if I was just like hallucinating or something from dehydration.”

Along with the waves crashing against his head, Thompson said there was one other thing that kept him going and pushing to stay alive.

“I just told myself I had to make it for my family and for everyone,” he said.

Thompson was eventually spotted by a Utah National Guard helicopter. A guardsman hoisted down to try and pick him up, but Thompson said a boat ultimately had to come and get him.

Utah National Guard Video Of Rescue On Great Salt Lake

WOW! The Utah National Guard released this amazing video of the rescue of the missing kayakers last night on the Great Salt Lake. We'll have an update on the story at noon on KSL TV as well!

Posted by KSL 5 TV on Friday, September 20, 2019

“After they picked me up, I kind of blacked out,” Thompson said. “I don’t remember really anything. I just woke up in the hospital after that.”

Both Thompson and Casey said they are grateful for the 100-or-so rescuers.

“Everyone was pulling together. So many volunteers came,” Casey said. “There was boats and airboats and people on ATVs and multiple helicopters. It was really surreal.”

They both said they have one big regret.

“Don’t be naive. Don’t be ignorant. Just bring life vests,” Casey said.

Casey explained that the group realized after they had driven out to the Great Salt Lake, they realized they had forgotten their life vests.

“If you really don’t want to drive out to get them, I’m sure you could call someone and say, ‘we forgot them,’ and there’s probably plenty of people who are willing to drive them out to you,” Casey said.

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‘I Had To Make It For My Family’: Kayakers Swim, Tread Water On Great Salt Lake For Over 7 Hours