Paddling event turns tragic on Tumon Bay - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Paddling event turns tragic on Tumon Bay

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by Michele Catahay

Guam - The search for seven paddlers ended this afternoon with tragic news as two lives were claimed by Guam's waters. What was meant to be a pickup paddling outing in Tumon Bay on Sunday afternoon turned into a frightening and tragic event as high tides and big surf tossed six paddlers out of their canoe and into the choppy water.

The Guam Fire Department's Search & Rescue Unit received the call of the six-man canoe team being swept out past the reef just after 5pm yesterday evening. "The canoe may have snapped in half, leaving three to be swept out," Joey San Nicolas, spokesman for GFD, told KUAM News. "One lone rescuer from the beach side was able to recover one of them and then our rescuers brought in the second person that didn't make it yesterday."

The group was made up of members from several paddling teams on the island. A 21-year-old woman was transported to the Guam Memorial Hospital last night and pronounced dead on arrival while four others were brought to shore. GFD along with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy's HSC-25 Helicopter Squadron combed the ocean throughout last night and again this morning as an 18-year-old male paddler was still missing.

Said San Nicolas, "With the increase in the wave activity and the surfs and the tide coming in. it is difficult. However, we're still able to conduct a search."

As the rescue efforts proceeded, family and friends gathered under pavilions, praying and comforting each other. Just before noon, the Navy spotted the lifeless body of a man approximately 100 yards from Matapang Beach, near the reef. The body was transported to the Hagatna Boat Basin. The two deaths have shocked the tight knit paddling community. 

Department of Parks and Recreation lifeguard Frank San Nicolas says they often see the paddlers who practice daily, saying, "Actually, it's a little rough for us because we see them everyday. We're here and we're posted where these guys practice. And we talk to them every once in a while. It was bad yesterday. Everybody was warned about the conditions."

The National Weather Service is urging people to stay away from the reef as a High Surf Advisory is in effect until Thursday.

KUAM News has confirmed that the 18-year-old is Ryan Cepeda, and that the 21-year-old is Kayleen Mendiola. Mass for Mendiola is being said at Catholic church in Yona beginning at 7pm.

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