AMES, Iowa (AP) — Two Iowa State University crew club members were participating in their first practice on the water when they drowned in March after their boat capsized in strong winds, according to newly released investigative findings.
The pandemic had kept the club off the water for 18 months, and investigators concluded in information released Wednesday that team members’ excitement for a chance to return likely clouded their judgment about safety, The Ames Tribune reports.
Yaakov Ben-David, 20, and Derek Nanni, 19, died in the capsizing on Little Wall Lake, about 20 miles (32.19 kilometers) north of the university’s campus in Ames. Three other members made it to shore, two of them with help from bystanders.
The newly released information is included in the full reports of a pair of investigations. When summaries of those reports were released last month, Iowa State announced it was suspending the club for at least the remainder of the current school year to give the club time to implement necessary health and safety measures.
The full report, which added several details, said that members had texted about the wind earlier that morning as they planned for the practice, with one saying it might top 15 mph. Crew members were not supposed to row in wind greater than 14 mph, according to the club’s constitution.
Members decided to head to the lake and check out the conditions. After deciding to go ahead, a pre-practice huddle about how to get into the boat and how to hold the handle went quickly because the air temperature was in the mid-30s and people were cold, investigators were told.
While the water on the lake initially was calm, the winds picked up as students rowed to deeper areas farther from the shoreline and white cap waves formed, the investigations said.
The team made one more practice run, even after someone raised concerns about the wind. Survivors told investigators that when the team did try to turn the boat around, a combination of the waves and two members just learning how to set the boat made the maneuver difficult.
Two waves hit the side of the boat while it was turning and flipped it. Officials pegged winds at 20-25 mph when the boat capsized.
None of the rowers were wearing life jackets, as is common among crew organizations because oars can catch on them and interfere with their strokes.
According to investigators, the weather conditions on the day of the accident could “reasonably be described as not safe for rowing” and would only be appropriate for “advanced experienced rowers in combination with the use of a properly equipped coach/safety launch.”
Because Ben-David and Nanni were new and inexperienced club members, the practice did not comply with the club’s safety standard prohibiting “rowers to row in conditions outside of their ability levels.”
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