Youth counselors save kayaker in Eagle-Vail |

Youth counselors save kayaker in Eagle-Vail

NWS kayaker rescue 1 KA 6-30-11

EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado – A lone kayaker in Eagle-Vail had life-saving help close at hand Thursday.

Casey Welch, a counselor with The Youth Foundation, noticed the kayaker paddling on the pond at the Eagle-Vail Pavilion, practicing his rolls. Welch and the other counselors and kids on hand soon noticed the kayak upside-down in the water.

“I noticed he’d been over for about a minute,” Welch said. Thinking the boater might be practicing holding his breath, “Someone threw a rock toward him and nothing happened.”

That’s when Welch and counselor Mike Santambrogio went into the water and flipped the kayak over. Others called 911.

The boater, a man in his 50s, wasn’t breathing. His face was blue. The counselors hauled the boater to shore, and counselor Bratzo Horrvitiner performed CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him. After several long, long minutes, the boater started breathing again.

A crew from the Eagle River Fire Protection District arrived at the scene while Horrvitiner was still performing CPR. An ambulance and an Eagle County Sheriff’s deputy arrived moments later.

Welch said the man was responsive and breathing when he was loaded into the ambulance.

Horrvitiner was too shaken to be interviewed after the incident, but counselor Lee Jones praised his work.

“He said he was thinking of the Bee-Gees song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ while he was doing CPR,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re trained to do, and his training saved that guy.”

All of the counselors for the First Tee program – about 75 just this summer – are trained in first aid and CPR before they’re allowed to work with kids. But no one thinks they’ll ever have to put that training to use. Those people are usually right.

“It’s the first time in any of our programs that we’ve ever had to use (CPR) on someone,” Jones said.

This time, though, the training paid off.

Between 45 and 50 kids, most from Berry Creek Middle School, saw the rescue. After talking with firefighters and a deputy, a few of the students were sitting at a picnic table near their counselors. Sarina Kanter was the only one willing to talk to a reporter about the incident.

“We saw something wasn’t right,” Kanter said. “It was scary – (the boater) was all purple.”

Asked what she thought of the counselors’ actions, Kanter said simply: “They’re life-savers.”

While the firefighters talked to the kids, the adults at the scene were shaken, too.

“We’re going to get everyone together this afternoon at the Youth Foundation office and talk about what happened,” Jones said.

As time passed, what he’d done started to sink in for Welch.

“It was very scary,” he said. “But when you work with kids you’ve got to have your eyes open and be ready for anything.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

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