July 17, 2012
"A U.S. male guest aboard Rhapsody of the Seas passed away while on an independent shore excursion involving rented kayaks," a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean told Cruise Critic. "There was an accident and the guest went into the water. He was rescued, but died at the scene."
A Tongass National Forest supervisor who is part of the ongoing investigation of the incident told Juneau radio station KTOO News that passenger, Michael Ray Fullerton, a 62-year old man from Georgetown, Texas, was with family members kayaking on Mendenhall Lake. The cold water lake -- water temperatures average 37 degrees Fahrenheit year-round -- is located at the foot of Mendenhall Glacier, a popular tourist attraction that's accessible from Juneau on Alaska cruises
Fullerton complained of exhaustion to his family and was forced to stop paddling. The family then tied their kayaks together in a cluster to help him; it is still unclear when and why the kayaks overturned.
The family flagged down a canoeist who was able to bring them all to the beach, but Fullerton had already been in the glacial water for near 30 minutes. By the time he got to shore he had already stopped breathing, and though a fireman from Juneau's Capital City Fire and Rescue immediately performed CPR, Fullerton was pronounced dead upon his arrival at a nearby hospital.
"The other remaining people were treated for mild hypothermia, transported to the hospital and just kind of everybody met up at the hospital where the family was treated and released," fire chief Rich Etheridge told the radio station.
The surviving family members disembarked in Juneau, Royal Caribbean said.
According to the KTOO News report, the family had arranged the private excursion with Alaska Boat and Kayak, a Juneau operator located in Auke Bay. According to the company's owner, the four family members were not part of a guided trip, but took the tandem kayaks off on their own after participating in a safety briefing about how to properly use the kayaks on Mendenhall Lake.
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor