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. Cloakwolf

    The water temperature of the lake was in the low 40's.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • fiona

      In water 40-50 degrees, loss of consciousness happens in 30 minutes to an hour. In a lake with nine-foot waves, unconsciousness means death.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. egger

    wow, that sucked, i thought my weekend was bad cause I injured by back and had to lay on a couch for 2 days. Sucks how some vacations turn into horror stories.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • michael

      i guess you think your little comment is cute. it makes you look like an idiot but I guess you have known that for years

      June 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pinky212

      Michael, I have a feeling you know at least one of the people involved in this tragic accident. I don't think egger was trying to be "cute". I think he was conveying the thought that sometimes we think we have it rough, but then we find out someone else has it rougher. Perhaps he could have said it differently, but I really don't think he meant any disrespect. At least, I didn't interpret it that way.

      My condolences to the families and friends of all of the boaters. It isn't just the deceased that went through an awful ordeal. You survivors went through an awful ordeal, too. I pray that you will find strength and comfort during this trying time. Blessings to you all.

      June 13, 2011 at 4:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. NoodleHat

    Know what you're getting yourself into. It might be harsh, but no sympathy. If you're in an area that has these known things happening, be ready for it or don't do it.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • michael

      noodle hat
      i hope you are in the same situation some day. we will see your ritious mouth shut

      June 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bart in Oregon

    "Struggling to put on a life vest"? After she went into the water on a known dangerous lake following high winds and big swells? This is boating safety 101 – you don't leave the dock unless there's proper safety gear for everyone, and they're wearing it.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Obama bin Bush

      I think another topic in Boating Safety 101 might be, don't cut across a freezing Alaskan lake in high winds to save a little time. Guessing the deceased wasn't all that safety-concerned.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • famfriend

      Read the whole story at (anchorage daily news). He made a tragic mistake but not as bad as this coverage of the story makes out.

      June 7, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  5. GoodAdvice

    I swear, the way some of you post comments on these stories, if there was an article about a guy that choked to death while eating steak at a restaurant you all would start saying that he deserves to die because he was stupid enough to eat. Sometimes accidents happen. Imagine if even one day of your life was printed. How many people would be going off on the actual stupid things that you do every day? You aren't the center of the universe, and sometimes other people do things that you wouldn't do. That doesn't make them stupid.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      @GoodAdvice I am also sick of these immature lowlifes. The only way for them to stop is for them to have to deal with a tragedy like this. I pray for there families.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ckbabs

      thank you for being a voice of reason. This is a terribly accident. People need to find some compassion in their hearts. That's another tragedy.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • watermaple

      Well said.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      GoodAdvice....I am so with you on your comment......It just blows my mind!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      June 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pinky212

      Another way to get them to stop is to Report them! Join me?

      June 13, 2011 at 4:36 am | Report abuse |
  6. akash

    Apparently none of you have ever been to Alaska, let alone live here. Going out on a lake at 9:30pm is not odd. Remember people, its light here that late. Also, it is not required for boaters to wear life jackets, just to have them on the boat. The weather can change here so quickly. This is a tragedy, please respect that.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • fiona

      akash, when the water is cold enough to kill in minutes, and when the passengers are children, life vest should be worn - not used as seat cushions. I kayak in very cold water. I am an excellent swimmer and can easily right a kayak and climb back in in rough water, but I still wear a partial wet suit and a life vest when the water's cold. When I kayak in warm water, I wear a bathing suit and keep the life vest strapped to the top of the kayak. That's the difference here. The boat owner was negligent and stupid.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Judy

      Your logic does not belong here. just kidding. Some people like to think they know everything about everything and feel the need to voice their completely uneducated opinion. I have never been to Alaska, hope to some day, but I am very aware of their "summer hours".

      Very tragic what happened.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • ummm

      So if it is not required by law then it's okay to disregard basic safety precautions? See ya on next year's Darwin awards.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • someone who lives in Alaska

      the young lady HAD her life jacket on !!!! If you don't live here you will never know how big that lake is (and the weather changes by the min.), how cold that lake is and how beautiful Alaska is !!!

      June 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Eshpigmenou

    Pigmenous are proficient in cold water swimming so they would have been fine for this. After some cold water swimming they usually cook up some burgers and dogs in The Athos.


    June 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nick

    This is a tragedy and not as stupid as one might think. First of all, 9:30 at night in Alaska in the summer = sun up for two more hours and daylight for at least three. How many times have you left work on a Friday for vacation and arrived at 9:30? It's not crazy. Should he have had them all in life jackets? Yes. That's the only part I don't understand. I wish these families and survivors well and hope they come to peace.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. fiona

    So many mistakes...why weren't all the teens wearing their life vest while in the boat? Why didn't the boat owner make sure he had vests that fit everyone? You can't take things for granted when the water you're traveling on is killing cold.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. banasy

    My condolences to the surving family members, and to the family of the girl.

    Natural selection, indeed. Bloody cold hearted jacassio!

    June 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Margroks

    It's too bad, certainly, but these people did things that endangered themselves. They didn't make sure they ahd proper life vests AND that they were all wearing them. Haivng them enarby is not good enough and especially in a known dangerous situation it was foolhardy, as was heading out across the lake. People can do many things to minimize dangers and this group clearly did not.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. misha

    I pray for the girls that made it through this horrible night. Alaska is always majestic just as it is unpredictable....I grew up here it happens. It seems people want to throw their opinions up here without "putting a jacket"....these girls are going to relive this over and over again...

    June 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Eshpigmenou

    There's no way Tustumena is bigger than Belles

    June 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. C. Miller

    Prayers to the families. I also want to say that this should be a lesson for those with children...whether you are driving, boating or whatever...just take the safe route and be cautious because you have so much more at stake than just yourself.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 907

    Isn't it sad how insensitive the public is to loss if it isn't their own? Or how quick we are to judge?
    Our small community has been rocked by the deaths of these two wonderful individuals.
    My thoughts and prayers go out to the Udelhoven and Anderson families.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Domino

      People just don't seem to be able to look past their own tiny world. Some people don't understand that just because THEY aren't personally affected and grieving, doesn't mean that NOBODY is personally affected and grieving. The internet society is full of heartless people who probably have terrible lives and take it out on strangers online. My heart goes out to those who are suffering these losses.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
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