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Inside Sources: Kayaker tells his story of survival on the Great Salt Lake

Crews were out late Thursday night looking for two kayakers. Photo courtesy of Erik Bornemeier

SALT LAKE CITY — Kaysville resident Weston Barnett, 20, joined Doug Wright on Inside Sources Tuesday, September 24, 2019, to tell his story of being rescued from the Great Salt Lake after a long night riding the chilly, choppy waves.

Barnett and his two buddies, Jacob Thompson and Ryan Casey, decided to go on an island-hopping adventure.

 “Ryan hit me up. He’s like, ‘Dude, I have an epic adventure next week. You have to come.’ I had no idea what I was getting into,” Barnett said.

On Tuesday, the trio paddled to Antelope Island and spent the night there. They did the same on Wednesday.

But Thursday on the way to yet another island, Barnett said his kayak began to malfunction. It was turning into the waves.

“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I can’t fix this.’”

Barnett eventually caught up with his buddies, but a storm had begun to move in, and the waves were growing larger.

“If I was standing on the ground, and it was a frozen wave, I would have had to jump to touch the top,” he said.

“I cannot imagine a wave that big. What kind of weather were you in?” Wright asked.

Barnett said clouds began rolling in from the north.

We didn’t think it was gonna hit ’till the next day,” he said of the storm.

“Do you guys have a lot of experience as kayakers. Or was it just a hairball idea you decided to do?” Wright asked.

“I’m pretty sure I kayaked in Boy Scouts once, if that counts?” Barnett said.

We’re in big trouble

Barnett said because of his malfunctioning kayak, he was forced to paddle backward. His two friends were soon far ahead of him.

“I was stuck going backward, trying to stay straight with the waves. On a couple of waves, I almost lost it and tipped, and that’s when I started to freak out,” he told Wright. “Uh-oh, this is like real right now.”

“How long were you out on the water between the time things started to go south to the point where the rescue occurred?” Wright asked.

Barnett said they were on the lake at 11 a.m., but by 3 p.m., the waves had grown so large that they decided to turn back. With the waves bobbing up and down, he had lost sight of Thompson and Casey.

“How did you lose your kayak?” Wright asked.

“About an hour and a half before sundown … I could feel the wind speed up, and I knew I was in trouble and took in a bunch of water on my right side.

Barnett continued, “Then every other wave kept going down my leg, more and more. I was looking for something to bail it out bu t… had to focus on the front of my kayak toward the waves and steering. Then a wave hit and flipped me out into the water.”

“Did I really just capsize?” he asked himself. “Because I am going to die.”

Barnett said the kayak filled with water while he grabbed his inflatable tube. He said he had been wearing the tube around his shoulders for shelter against the icy wind.

“What went through your mind when the kayak capsized and you thought this is deadly serious?” Wright asked.

“If it’s my time to go, I’m gonna die here. But if it’s not my time, and I have stuff to still do, then I’m gonna make it,” Barnett said. “Wait it out and see if I live or see if I die.  I was just kind of like playing a game.”

I’m not drowning

Wright asked if Barnett’s greatest fear was drowning, hypothermia or exhaustion?

“Drowning is my biggest fear,” Barnett said. ” I told myself, I’m not gonna drown. I don’t care what I have to do. I’m not drowning.”

He said that he was convinced that if he did die on the lake, it was going to be from hypothermia.

“My legs had locked up. The water, they said, was somewhere in the 60s.”

“That’s cold,” Wright said. “Walk us through the final stages.”

“Finally, it had gotten dark,” Barnett said. “I looked up and saw a bunch of lights and thought, they’re looking for me.

“I thought Jacob and Ryan had both made it to the shore. And I’m the only one, but they’re looking on the beach, and I’m still 4 miles out. I’m like, it’s gonna be a long night,” he said.

Barnett said that prayer is the only reason he is alive.

“There’s no other explanation. I was in that water from 5:30, and I walked up on the beach. They started asking me questions, and I was like, wait, first, What time is it? Dude, it’s one in the morning, and I was like, Are you kidding me?” Barnett said.

He said his friend Ryan Casey “went as hard as he could,” made it ashore by 7 p.m. and called for help.

His other friend, Jacob Thompson, was blowing up his tube but lost it in the wind.

“If it wasn’t for search and rescue, he’d be dead,” said Barnett.

The bag his tent was in still held air. He was holding on to it and treading water.

Barnett said rescuers tried to pick Thompson up by helicopter, but the wind was so fierce that a boat was sent out to retrieve him.

“Weston, we’re glad you’re still with us,” Wright said.

“It’s nice to still be there,” he said.

“Call me on your next adventure and let me approve it, OK?” Wright asked.

“Uh, alright. I’ll probably need your number,” he said.