Local attorney, out for morning run, spots missing kayakers

Local News

ALBION, N.Y. (WIVB) — Just like he does each day, local attorney John Gavenda headed out for a jog Tuesday morning with his wife.

It was around 5 a.m., and they’d take the usual four-mile route through Point Breeze.

But their morning run was cut short, when Gavenda came across two of the three kayakers, who had been missing for nearly a day on Lake Ontario, and who had miraculously survived.

Gavenda is a longtime resident of upper Orleans County, spending most of his life in Albion and along the lake shore.

“It will eat you alive,” he said. “You have to respect that lake.”

That’s why Tuesday’s early news coverage of missing kayakers caught his attention. Within the hour, Gavenda became part of that coverage when he came upon Nathaniel McCormick and Joseph Williams along Lakeshore Road.

They were exhausted after drifting without kayaks more than 17 hours and more than 15 miles east in the frigid Lake Ontario. They also survived severe storms that blew through after 9 p.m., and forced rescue boats off the water at about 9:45 p.m.

“I said, ‘Hey, good morning.’ And they said, ‘Hey, have you got a cell phone?’

“So we invited them in, they took a shower, they both took showers, and my wife made them breakfast.”

Together with Nathaniel’s twin brother Jacob, the three launched their kayaks between 9 and 10 a.m. Monday at Golden Hill State Park. Joseph’s kayak capsized at about 11 a.m., and he held on to Nathaniel’s while Jacob paddled away for help. He was never seen alive again.

The Orleans County Sheriff’s Office said the men told them at one point during the night, they drifted within about 50 yards of a rescue vessel. But the wind was howling and the water too rough for the rescuers to see or hear them.

Orleans County Undersheriff Christopher Bourke said the men were hoarse when they talked to authorities early Tuesday.

While Nathaniel and Joseph eventually found the shoreline — sometime after 4 a.m. — Jacob’s body was found by the coast guard about three hours later.

That fact pained Gavenda, especially because at the time he provided assistance, the men believed Jacob was still alive and were acting as if they would be reunited.

“We helped these guys out and everything’s going to be great,” Gavenda said. “And then when he told me that it was his brother, that affected me, too. It’s his twin brother. And they were out there in the water, and I knew just how bad it was that day, and all the sudden, his brother is gone.

“They were doing something they enjoyed immensely,” he added. “And now he’s gone.”

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