Alaska teens swim miles against 9-foot waves to survive lake nightmare
Tustumena Lake is a 25-mile-long, six-mile-wide body of water in south central Alaska.
June 6th, 2011
10:52 AM ET

Alaska teens swim miles against 9-foot waves to survive lake nightmare

Three teenagers survived a brutal Alaska lake excursion that killed a father and one of their young friends.

Around 9:30 p.m. Friday, the man, Ashley Udelhoven, two of his daughters and two of their friends set out by boat to spend the weekend at a public cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake, a 25-mile-long, six-mile-wide body of water in south central Alaska. The lake is known to be perilous for small vessels because of unpredictable high winds that sometimes blow across it from nearby Tustumena Glacier.

The water was calm when the group began the journey. But Udelhoven decided to cut across the lake to save time, rescue officials told the Anchorage Daily News. About that time, winds picked up - blowing up to 45 mph - and the 18-foot boat filled with water. The surviving teenagers later told rescuers that they had seen swells as high as 9 feet.

The teens said the boat rocked violently, and everyone went overboard. As Udelhoven struggled in the freezing water, he began talking nonsense, a sign of hypothermia, the newspaper said.

One of the teenagers struggled to put on her life vest, which was too big and kept slipping, an official said.

The remaining three teens swam more than two miles back to shore, reaching land about 3 a.m. Saturday. They walked to a cabin, where they ate food and huddled for warmth, the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, another boater spotted debris and a cooler floating on the lake that had Udelhoven's name and phone number written on it. The man called his wife, and she called troopers.

Rescuers found the bodies of Udelhoven and one of the teenagers - the one who struggled to put on her life vest - early Saturday evening, and the three surviving teens were found on land shortly after, the Daily News reported.

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Filed under: Alaska
soundoff (159 Responses)
  1. dslguy

    I kinda wonder why the others did'nt grab the girl and swim with her or grab anybody else and try to swim with them?? i know we don't have all the facts of what happened but, what happened to calling the police when they got back to the cabin instead of eating and huddleing around. rip people god bless the family and my prayers go out to you all.

    June 23, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • katie

      You sir...are an idiot. You obviously know nothing about ALaska...I knew one of the girls who survived this.....the dad who died had the girl who died...they were swimming together.....the 3 other girls knew the other 2 were not going to survive and kept going...had they stopped they wouldnt have lived either....what HAPPENED TO CALLING POLICE?? well in the middle of no where ...where there is no CELL PHONE coverage like everyone in the lower 48 is use to....ALASKA doesnt have.....also....any phones or devices were sunk with the boat......I am heart broken to think people can be this ridiculous!

      April 15, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Daniel

    good lesson for everyone. be prepared and you will most likely survive, or stupidity is the great equalizer

    June 23, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. Phil in Oregon

    Apparently the culprit of the story is taking shortcuts. A lot of us do it all the time, so use this as an opportunity to consider taking the longer, slower way around – and getting there alive.

    June 23, 2011 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Bayousara

      In Oregon it is the LAW to have your life jacket on the second you step into a boat. So many people refuse to do this, I see it all the time in our many bodies of water in the Pacific Northwest. It may sound harsh, but I have to wonder about how much a parent cares about his kids/friends if he does NOT enforce these laws. I lost a friend in the Rogue River in Southern Oregon in 1964. Swimming across a white water river at NIGHT.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ituri

      There is no "culprit" here. The weather was fine for a shortcut, and then it wasn't. Its not possible to foresee every problem or accident, or be careful enough to avoid them all. They'd probably done this same thing dozens of times already, Alaskans often have NO other access to places but water access.

      This is just one of those awful situations where things went wrong. The 3 teens that lived are probably LUCKY they were close enough to make it to shore without freezing to death first.

      June 27, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ituri

      Btw, Bay, not everyone needs the government forcibly boarding their boats and telling them what to do. Your friend, sorry to say, sounded a little d umb, and you can't cure s tupidity, no matter how much you sissify the law. Forcing life vests onto these people wouldn't have saved them from the real killer, which was FREEZING. So should the law force them to all wear expensive cold weather suits every time they get on a boat? Not even professional boaters do that, and neither will anyone else.

      June 27, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Shoe

    Those 3 girls showed amazing athleticism, endurance, and will to swim that far under those conditions, unexpectedly. How terrible it must have been to know that their companions didn't make it.

    June 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kevin

    Back in the 80s my brother and I found ourselves in Tustamena lake after rafting the Kenai River. We found miles of wilderness cliffs on the right and a huge glacier miles away on the left. The water in the lake was 20 or 30 degrees colder than the river, which condensed the air in our raft and was in danger of swamping. Because we were unprepared (no pump) we rolled one end of the raft up like a tube of toothpaste took turns paddling for hours. Eventually a boater saved us and at the boat ramp we saw a cross-bones warning about the weather and water temp. Could have turned out much differently, nature is an incredible force.

    July 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mother

    For those who are so quick to pass judgement on the man who died, let me say I know first hand how safe he was with a boat, life jackets and safety. Everybody's life jacket fit when they left the dock, the water was calm when they set out across the was always the forefront of all his trips to Tustumena Lake. It is light until after midnight and even then, it does not get completely dark. Why he decided to cut across that night I do not know..when reading the insensitive comments made here makes me sad because they are made in ignorance. My prayers go out to Katarina's family every day...their lives will never be the same. My prayers also go to the girls who survived....Athena, and my two daughters, Miranda and Hanna. Their dad gave up his life so they could live...

    September 10, 2011 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
  7. Kayla Gregory

    Ashley should of never went out at 9pm at night in the first place. He sould of waited tell that morning to leave. Also he should o NEVER crosed that lack because of his stupid action him and MY SISTER KATARINA are dead. I will never get to see her again. She was only 16 its not fair. What if his kids died to. I dont care if he new that lake. IF he did then why the hell did he think it was okay to cross the lack. I miss my sister every day. Thank you ashley for killing my sister for making a stupid decition.

    October 13, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kayla Gregory

      My family acts everyday for missing my sister.

      October 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hanna U.

    I am on of the three survivors in the accident.
    Let me just say, no one truly understands Alaskan wheather until you live up here for at least a year.
    Please don't be so quick to judge.
    My dad was a great guy, and he's the reason at least three of us made it.
    Also, not all information is correct.
    Find out what really went on before dishing out critism.
    Thank you.

    November 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
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    September 8, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
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