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Father says friend not to blame for son's death
The father of the 28-year-old Bainbridge Island man who is believed to have drowned in a kayak accident off Blakely Harbor said that the friend who was kayaking with him did all he could to save his son’s life.
Brandon Thompson was presumed drowned after his kayak turned over about 200 yards off the south shore of Rockaway Beach around 9:45 p.m. on Sept. 17. According to authorities and a long-time friend who was kayaking with Thompson at the time, after Thompson’s kayak capsized he shed his lifejacket and attempted to swim ashore against the tide.
The search began at about 10:45 p.m. Friday and was called off at noon Saturday after Thompson’s body was not recovered. His kayak, paddle and lifejacket were found after some 45 square miles of shoreline and water was searched by six boats and two helicopters, police said.
Island resident Tim Thompson, Brandon’s father, said Wednesday that he and his wife Eva had a long conversation with their son’s friend about the accident.
Tim Thompson said the friend, who owned both kayaks being used, described the accident as follows:
“They went out from Blakely Harbor after 9 o’clock or so as the tide was going out. They wanted to be on the water during a full moon. Brandon was a little ways behind and [his friend] heard a splash and turned around to see Brandon in the water. Brandon tried to right the kayak but it took in a lot of water. He got back into it to see if he could still row it, but it was too far down in the water. Then they tried to put Brandon’s kayak over [the other kayak] to get the water out of it, but they couldn’t get enough leverage to do that.
“Brandon then tried to swim for shore but his pile jacket and lifejacket inhibited him so he decided to take them off. Then he held onto the tail of the kayak, kicking as [his friend] tried to paddle. But the tide was too strong and they weren’t going anywhere. He then tried to swim along on the side of the kayak, but he couldn’t keep up with the current going out.”
Thompson said the friend tried to give Brandon his lifejacket, but he wouldn’t take it because he still thought he could swim ashore.
“But then Brandon was beginning to shiver so [his friend] told him he’d paddle to the shore and get help. He went to the first house he saw and they called the police, then he went back out to find Brandon but he was gone. He said it took about 15 minutes between the time he left and came back.”
Thompson said his son was a scuba diver who had done some kayaking before and was competent, but not highly experienced.
“We don’t really know how it happened,” Thompson said, “because he was behind the other kayak.”
The water temperature at the time of the initial search was 55 degrees with 10-knot winds and waves less than two feet, according to the Coast Guard. Thompson said he wanted to have a story written about what had happened because some people were saying the other kayaker was at fault.
“Both my wife and I feel strongly that he did everything he possibly could have done to save Brandon,” Thompson said. “We want to give him as much support as we possibly can. He’s a great person and anything we can do to ease his pain I want to do. It was just an accident.”
Thompson said he was grateful for the efforts made by the police and U.S. Coast Guard to find his son’s body.
“The police came and had a psychologist spend about 45 minutes with us during the search and were extremely helpful,” he said. “Everyone has been fantastic and we really appreciate that they took the time to be with us.”
Police said they received a call from a Rockaway Beach resident at about 10:15 p.m. and the search began a half-hour later.