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. familyfriend

    I know the very loving family personally and below is everything people don't realize.

    Posted by: noseawl
    Just a little perspective from an Alaskan. The reason that they were on the lake at 9:30 pm is that the sun was still up. It is not unusual in Alaska to start a trip late in the evening after work. As for the waves, I have been out on this lake and it can go from dead calm to the conditions mentioned in the article in a very short amount of time. That said, it doesn't happen that often, so people cut across the lake all the time. It is a VERY BIG lake, so it would take you a long time if you just followed the shore. Hypothermia affects people in a variety of ways...some people are more affected more quickly than others. The dad died trying to save the life of a young girl. He could have left her, but he didn't. The energy he used trying to pull her to safety may have cost them his life. The young girls are amazing. To swim to shore and then hike to a cabin. Amazing.

    June 7, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      I'm sorry for the loss of your friends. You owe NO explaination to rude ignorant people.

      June 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      Sorry, explanation.

      June 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • KatAttack

      no explanation is owed, but this one is much appreciated. Thank you for putting the conditions into context.

      June 12, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Andy

    Just recently, 2 friends of mine and myself go stranded in a relatively small lake in Texas. Luckily, I was the only one stranded in the water, as my friends were in kayaks that had become so full of water they could not move nor paddle to safety. My kayak sank. I was only in the water for 3 hours, but that exhausted me to the point that I thought I would drown, and to make things worse, I did not have a lifevest. These young ladies were lucky. My thoughts go out to them, those who were lost, and their loved ones.

    June 7, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      always have a life vest, when you're fishing or especially on a kayak/canoe. In a big bass boat you're a little safer, but I keep an air horn and flares to be extra safe. :p

      June 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. akgirl

    The man that some of you are referring to as a 'moran' was a dear friend of mine and our family. There are so many more details to the story that you don't know. For the sake of the families of lost ones and the survivors, PLEASE stop using this as a place to throw around disrespect. There is absolutely no point. Friends and family are mourning their loss and you people can't think of anything nicer to say?? Well, just stop talking.

    June 8, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      I'm sorry.

      June 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heather G

      Condolences to the family and friends.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • wavejump1100

      its amazing how many important details the media leaves out when reporting a story. dont let the comments get to you. many people post things just to get a rise out of readers.

      June 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • CNNTrTime

      Yea, and my best friend as Ghandi

      June 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mikey

    Information for all here: Insufficient or a clogged sump pump to pump water out does happen or having no sump pump....what to do?. If the motor still runs pull the drain plug and hit the gas; the centrifigal force fills the rear of the boat and forces the water out the drain plug. I experienced this and it was shocking how quick it can work. I have used it since myself and added an extra 2 sump pumps to allow for cleaning clogged ones. Staying closer to shore here would have helped, and is an option for boaters to consider. Life vests come in 2 or 3 sizes; sadly the young lady's was not adjusted properly ahead of the emergency. Check the one you might need before the emergency arises. The captain should ensure people know where they are and how to use them. In this case he would be preparing his children for an emergency. Always the right thing for a parent to do. Glad the 3 survived...I have experienced glacier water....dangerously cold. safe....enjoy!

    June 8, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      Excellent, thanks.

      June 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. doug

    Life can either be boring or an awesome adventure
    These brave people chose the adventure
    This meant taking some risks.
    Being human, they may have made a mistake but did not die of boredom or dementia

    June 8, 2011 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. Dea2

    This was a tragedy plain and simple. People who don't live in Alaska are way too quick to compare it to the conditions where they live. The sun is up nearly 21 hours a day around Kenai right now. And it doesn't get dark enough that the father couldn't see where he was going. It's a fairly common practice to cut across the lake, and even the most experienced boaters can be caught by surprise when the winds come off the glacier all of a sudden.

    The one lesson people should remember out of this is to make sure everyone has a life vest that fits. Even when the conditions are perfect.

    My prayers and condolences go out to the family and friends of the victims of this accident.

    June 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kaybee

    I have family in that area of Alaska and there is no way to be more prepared for accidents than they are on a daily basis. This was a situation that got out of control before anyone knew what was going on. I'm sure that's happened to some of us, even living in suburban NJ, where I live. We have no glaciers, wild animals, weather anomalies, etc. and people still get hurt while doing activities they enjoy. I have a lot of respect and love for Alaskans and my heart goes out to the families affected. It wasn't anyone's fault. Nobody was stupid. Can we try not to be cruel? It doesn't help or change anything.

    June 10, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. t

    its too bad this happened. condolences to the family

    and knock that god crap off...if god was real, they wouldnt have drowned

    June 10, 2011 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Dorothy Teel

      To the person that replied God is not real, who do you think wakes you up every morning? God is real! He allows things to happen for a reason, and it is not for us to question Him. My condolences and prayers go out to this family.
      It is a sad day when people don't show or express feelings for others.

      June 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matthew Brigstock

      I will tell you what wakes us up every morning, science. It is how the human body works. Don't act like God is watching over us and decides who is going to wake up every single morning. It is science my friend. When the human body stops functioning, that is when we die. How can you say there is a God when events like 9/11 and the Holocaust have happened? Did God just sit up there and watch 11 million people get burned in ovens? NO. Religion had its run, and now it is time for science to take over. We can advance this world on the basis of science, not religion. We can make this world a better place through science, not religion.

      June 20, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZekeInTX

      The alarm on my iPhone wakes me up every morning. And Steve Jobs is, in many ways, God.

      Damn, now I'm confused.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      if science is all there is – what caused the Big Bang? According "to science", the Big Bang was the origin of space and time itself. Before that, there was nothing – and nothing as in "what rocks dream about". If you think science is the only way to obtain knowledge, you need to read more – learn that scientism is self-refuting. Read up on the kalam cosmological argument (see William Lane Craig) if you want to learn more. Honestly, so many "internet atheists" are just as blind as they make out fundamentalist religionists – and in many cases, just as ignorant of the facts.

      June 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • God

      Hello. This is God. I do not exist. Thank you for your time.

      June 23, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. petsRfun

    I'm very sorry for the friends and family, and no doubt this man
    had the best of intentions– but there was negligence here. He
    had four children on his craft, and before leaving dock,
    alll four should have had been wearing a properly fitted
    life vest.
    That's his responsibility – especially if he plans to cut across
    the lake.

    June 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rockywatermermaid

      My condolences to the families involved. Tragedies like this are why boating safety classes should be required. We've been boating for over 45 years, and before taking anyone's children out on the boat, we make sure they have a life vest on, and it fits properly. As Captain, you are responsible for the maintenance and safety of the vessel, and the lives of everyone onboard. Please take this responsibility seriously, weather conditions can change very very quickly.

      June 13, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • PeteH

      Sad but true. A tragedy that could have been avoided.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. unowhoitsme

    Condolences to the families and friends. To the teens that survived: Do not badger yourselves with gulit, saying to yourselves I "should have, could have, would have" done things differently. It was their time to die, no matter what. Mother Nature has control...we don't, although sometimes we think we do.

    June 12, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  11. Booboo

    No matter how experienced you are, the forces of nature is unpredictable.
    Condolences to family and friends...
    It's typical for people who are insecure about their intelligence to judge others so they don't look like idiots all alone.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bball42

    they are all stupid for going into that lake and even living in alaska

    June 17, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. bigbangtheory

    Horrible for everyone involved. My prayers. God bless the families.

    June 19, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Frogger

    So sorry for Ashley's family and friends. Tustamena Lake has taken so many people some of whom were my loved ones, it's like it has a mind of its own. No boating safety class can prepare you for that place and I doubt there's anywhere in the lower 48 that compares.

    June 19, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ZUBU

    Thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. Not to bash the dad in any capacity, but the first thing you do when you get on a vessel is put a life vest on and ensure that it fits well. You never know when an emergency will happen so you have to prepare in advance. I was in the Navy years ago and stationed near many different bodies of water and yes when you get out in the water a good distance conditions can changed very quickly. I've been on small craft before and the swells get pretty high and we've had to turn back because of fear of being capsized. I 've seen the water as calm as a baby lamb and the same stretch of water as evil as a devil. Please folks practice water safety.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
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