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Kayakers perish off coastline

Two young Navy men drowned over the weekend in a kayaking accident in the waters off Central Whidbey, according to the Island County Coroner’s Office.

Coroner Robert Bishop identified the two men as Vinson C. Ya, 25, and Joseph T. Lee, 21. Both men were with VAQ-129 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

The two men left to go fishing at about 4 p.m. on Saturday, said Bishop.

They rented two kayaks and borrowed a pickup truck from a friend, Bishop said.

The two men went into the water in separate kayaks at Libbey Beach Park. They were both wearing life jackets. Their friends expected them to return by 9 p.m.

At 9:55 p.m., a resident reported hearing someone crying for help from the water in the area, but could only see one boat that seemed to be under power and not in distress.

The resident called 9-1-1 and reported what he heard, according to Bishop.

The call prompted a search of the waters on the area. Chief Marv Koorn with North Whidbey Fire Rescue said his agency responded, as did responders with Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue and a United States Coast Guard helicopter.

Koorn said they believed they were looking for a boat that was traveling south past Libbey Beach.

“At no point did we realize that there were kayakers out there,” he said.

The search was called off at about 11:30 p.m. when nothing was found.

The Coast Guard located the boat in question at about 1:30 Sunday morning and reported that the man aboard the boat was fine.

At about 6 a.m. Sunday, a couple from Federal Way were walking on the beach and found Ya’s body about a half mile north of the Libbey Park.

A kayak was located on the beach about 50 feet from the body, Bishop said.

Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue personnel arrived in a boat to retrieve the body from the beach.

Bishop said he was with the rescuers as the boat was heading back to Keystone Harbor when they spotted a second kayak about half a mile south of Libbey Beach Park. They found Lee’s body about 200 yards off shore.

Bishop said the men’s friends reported Ya and Lee missing at about the time their bodies were being recovered.

Autopsies were performed Sunday by the coroner.

The manner and cause of death for both men was accidental saltwater drowning with hypothermia, according to Bishop. Time of death was approximately 10 p.m.

Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office said there’s no reason to suspect anything other than the deaths were an accident. He said that the water on the west side of Whidbey Island can be especially choppy and dangerous.

“Even as we’re coming into summer time, the water is still cold,” he said.

 

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