A pair of kiteboarders launched their kites at around 5 pm on a lake in Colorado, USA on May 6, 2005. Five other kiteboarders were at the lake at this time and thinking about launching. One kiteboarder, Jeff (195lbs) launched an 16m kite, from the sand beach shown in the satellite image below. James (150lbs) launched an 18m kite. Each rider had been kiteboarding in inland conditions for about five years and were very experienced. They rode for about 15 minutes in light side onshore winds at around 12 kts. until the wind eased off to where they could no longer stay upwind. There were some storms visible at points around the horizon but none were recalled to be nearby. The wind was a less gusty than normal although fairly gusty wind is the rule at this inland lake. Both riders were keeping an eye on the water to look for tell tale ripples or white water indicative of gusts. Usually, pending gusts are fairly obvious at this lake to experienced riders.
They landed and started to walk back up to a point along a dirt path as shown in the image. The beach along the lake in this area is strewn with bushes and trees so they were compelled to use the path about 150 ft. inland from the lake. The water level in the lake is up about 10 to 15 ft. above normal at this point. The water level shown in the satellite photo is also higher than normal. The normal narrow beach along the lake's edge that would allow riders to walk by the side of the lake was underwater. Unassisted landing of kites in this area is not very practical given the abundance of cactus and sharp rocks. Solo landing in the water can be done, however there are a lot of partially inundated trees along the shoreline, creating line tangle and kite tearing issues. Both kiteboarders walked back with their kites flying and inclined inland away from the lake. The wind at this point was quite light at about 6 to 8 kts., making it difficult to maintain kite flight.
James was leading the way but was a bit distracted by some cactus thorns that had pierced his bootie and foot and was wondering how to get them out. They approached the point with an adjacent boulder filled depression or spillway. The spillway appears suddenly just past a rise from the east. The boulders covering the bottom of the spillway were about 1 foot in diameter and were sharp from fracturing used to break them down to size. The wind started to rise slowly at this point, but no obvious gusts were apparent on the water. The two were planning on heading back out on the water. Jeff warned James about the boulders in the spillway. Both of their kites were suspended over the spillway and so James started to bring his kite slowly toward the zenith in an effort to place his kite back over the water and away from the spillway. The power was too much to hold his footing as he raised his kite overhead. He was lofted about 1 to 2 ft. off the ground, over an inclined bank and down to the flat expanse of boulder in the spillway. He traveled over a horizontal distance of about 80 ft. before touching down feet first on the rocks. He put his kite straight overhead to stabilize it while in flight to try to minimize any excessive downwind or sideways movement. He had just enough time to pull down on his bar twice and get out of the chicken loop and drop his bar to activate his kite leash after he touched down. It happened so fast that it never crossed his mind to use the Quick Release securing the chicken loop. James' kite depowered and fluttered to the ground while still attached to the kite leash line.
James shouted to Jeff that he was alright, even though his left foot hurt. James wasn’t able to make eye contact with Jeff, so he took a few steps up the rock bank of the spillway in order to give him the thumbs up in case he hadn’t heard or thought it was a shout of distress. Once James could see Jeff, Jeff’s kite appeared to be straight overhead when he was suddenly lofted towards James. James shouted as loud as he could to “UNHOOK”!
Jeff grazed the inclined slope of the side of the spillway, but didn’t have enough time to unhook. He continued forward under kite power still flying at about 2 ft. off the ground. Jeff yelled at this point but wasn't seen to have tried to unhook and drop his bar. Jeff's downwind speed increased as went between James and his downed kite perhaps caused by accidentally diving the kite. James' kite leash line caught on Jeff's body and James realized that it would have eventually pulled him off his feet and across the rocks, so he looked down briefly and released his kite leash from his harness. Jeff touched down while James was looking down and bounced a few times across the rocks before coming to rest with his kite down. Jeff traveled about 170 feet in total distance. The wind in the case of each lofting was estimated by James and two other riders at the beach to be about 15 knots and was NOT a big gust.
James ran over to Jeff and he was lying on his back across the rocks with his eyes wide open and blood on the rocks from an obvious head injury. James shouted at Jeff to get a response, but got no obvious reaction. Jeff's eyes didn’t move and he didn’t blink his eyelids, so James thought that Jeff might have been dead. Just in case, James ran toward the parking and shouted at some people to call for an ambulance. James hobbled back to Jeff as fast as he could, but had trouble due to the pain from what turned out to be a broken foot. A close friend of both riders came over and noticed that Jeff was still breathing. They monitored his breathing, tried to keep his wetsuit loose from around his neck and tried to stabilize his head.
Paramedics arrived and gave him oxygen and a neck brace. The riders helped remove his seat harness and rolled him onto a back board. Eventually they got him into a helicopter and flew him to the hospital. His other injuries included a broken pelvis, 7 broken ribs and a tear in his liver. Tests showed a cracked, but not crushed skull, in the back of his head and brain trauma, which included some paralyzing spinal damage. He remained in a coma on life support until he died in the hospital 11 days later.
Two physicians, one the head of Surgery and the other of Critical Care in their respective hospitals both felt that Jeff might have survived if he had been wearing a helmet.