AMES, Iowa — The president of Iowa State’s student crew club said winds that had been forecast to remain low picked up suddenly, causing a boat to capsize before the crew could return to shore, killing two crew members last week.
Yaakov Ben-David, 20, a sophomore from Washington, D.C., and Derek Nanni, 19, a freshman from Normal, Illinois, drowned in the accident March 28 on Little Wall Lake in Hamilton County.
Crew Club President Alexis Aurandt said the forecast that day called for 11-14 mph winds that would gust up to 17 mph later in the morning. The crew’s rules say the club should not row if winds are greater 14 mph, so members decided to drive to the lake to check conditions, she said Saturday in a statement to WHO-TV.
The lake was “like glass” near the shore with small ripples everywhere else when the crew arrived, she said.
The boat was launched at around 8:45 a.m., and winds picked up suddenly at around 9:30 a.m., causing 1-foot rolling waves around the boat, she said.
Aurandt, who was coxswain for the crew, directed them to turn around and head to shore. When the boat was perpendicular to the waves, a wave went under it.
“It was so powerful that it pushed us completely over,” Aurandt said. “There was no way to correct for it. I remember hearing frantic breathing. I told everyone to breathe and to comprehend what just happened.”
She said crew members, who were not wearing life vests but had all passed swimming tests, tried to swim to shore. Three crew members were rescued by people who lived along the lake.
Hamilton County Sheriff Doug Timmons said the lake’s conditions were “rough” and wind speeds were around 20-25 mph when rescue crews arrived.
Rowing shells, racing canoes and kayaks are exempt from life jacket requirements in waters considered navigable by the U.S. Coast Guard, according United States Rowing Association, rowing’s national governing body. Iowa law also exempts racing shells used in sculling.
Most rowing organizations do not require athletes to wear life jackets, in part because oars can catch on them and interfere with rowing strokes, Brett Johnson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Rowing Association, told The Des Moines Register.
Iowa State officials have begun several investigations into the accident and oversight of the school’s 55 sports clubs, which mostly operate outside of university control.
The school also said Thursday that US Rowing would conduct a safety review of the accident and the crew club’s safety policies and practices.