Flashback: A near miss with hypothermia (part 1 of 2)

Game wardens recovered the body of a Stanton woman on Sunday, one of two family members who died in a Scurry County boating accident over the weekend. Erin Cook was transported to a hospital, as well, where she was pronounced dead due to hypothermia. The body of Melody Cook, who didn’t make it to shore, was found Sunday morning at 8:50 a.m.

This account of a tragic accident appears on the front page of today’s Midland Reporter Telegram [online version], and as I read it, I had vivid memories of a similar incident that had a much happier ending.

Long time West Texans may recall that in the mid 1980s, the normally dry playa lake next to I-20 between Stanton and Big Spring was filled to capacity by runoff from record-breaking rainfall. At that time, it was named “Pleasure Lake” by wags, evoking a verdant image that was completely incongruent with the reality of a puddle in the middle of a mesquite-filled pasture. Of course, everything’s bigger in Texas, and that “puddle” covered a good number of acres with water that was 6-8 feet deep in places.

The sudden appearance of a “lake” where none existed before produced a rather striking tableau for travelers scooting down Interstate 20, as the generally choppy surface of the water was made even more agitated by a double handful of sailboarders who were thrilled to find a windswept and generally boat-free body of water so close at hand. I was one of those fortunate folks on whom Mother Nature smiled briefly, and I spent a number of weekend afternoons honing my windsurfing skills at Pleasure Lake.

Thus I found myself in the middle of the lake one crisp fall afternoon, pushed smoothly across the water by light-but-steady breezes. The water was cold enough that I was wearing a drysuit (which is like a wetsuit except you stay, well, dry) and neoprene booties and gloves. The air temperature was probably in the 70s, and water temps were somewhat lower than that – not frigid, but also not something you’d want to spend much time in without protection. Or even with protection, for that matter.

We rarely had to share the water with boats, thanks to the shallowness of the “lake” and the lack of boat ramps, but during this particular afternoon, somebody had managed to get one of those Everglades-style, and evidently homemade airboats into the water. Some bubba was buzzing around the lake in it; I don’t recall that he was being reckless or even annoying, but the noise was an intrusion in the normally mellow surroundings.

Suddenly, I noticed that I no longer noticed any noise. I looked across the water a few hundred yards and there was the airboat, only it was sitting at an odd angle, and not moving. I swung my sail around and headed over to see what was up.

What was up was the bottom of the boat, and the bubba driver was propped up on the floats, trying to stay out of the water. He’d managed to flip the dang boat, and was flung into the cold water. By the time I got close, his teeth were already chattering. He was about a hundred yards from the shore, the sun was getting lower in the sky, and by the looks of him, he was probably more of a floater than a swimmer, if you get my drift. Hmm. A quandary, and one that could get rather uncomfortable rather quickly.

Check back tomorrow for the exciting conclusion…which can be found here.

Categorized as West Texas