SANTIAGO – U.S. mogul and environmental activist Doug Tompkins died on Tuesday after suffering severe hypothermia when his kayak capsized on southern Chile’s Lake General Carrera.
Tompkins, 72, was the only one of a group of six kayakers who remained hospitalized in Coyhaique, some 1,500 kilometers (800 miles) from Santiago, after being rescued along with his companions in a Chilean navy operation involving boats and helicopters, authorities said.
The other kayakers are all in good condition, but Tompkins’ age was a factor in his death, hospital sources said.
Tompkins and his five companions, at least three of whom are foreigners, were caught in heavy winds and waves as they were making a kayaking trip of some 30 km (19 mi.) between the towns of Puerto Sanchez and Puerto Ingeniero Ibañez.
The navy said that the kayakers set off without telling the port authorities about their trip when weather conditions were adverse for small-craft navigation.
The kayaking accident was caused, according to preliminary reports, by strong winds on the lake which stirred up waves up to three meters (about 10 feet) high. After their kayaks capsized, three members of the group managed to swim to a small island, but Tompkins and two others remained in the water until they were rescued by the navy.
Tompkins had been admitted to the hospital at about 1:30 p.m. with a body temperature of just 19 C (66 F) and extensive resuscitation measures had to be performed upon him. Even so, the hospital’s urgent care director, Dr. Carlos Salazar, told Bio Bio radio that people who suffer extreme hypothermia only “occasionally” survive.
When Tompkins’ body temperature rose to 22.5 C (72 F) he was moved to the intensive care unit, and doctors said that if his temperature were to reach 30 C (86 F) they would be able to issue a prognosis, but he died about 6:30 p.m.
The information was confirmed by Melitina Acuña, the district attorney for the lakeside town of Chico, who is in charge of the accident investigation.
Tompkins was the founder of Berkeley, California-based outdoor outfitter The North Face and the co-founder, with wife Susie, of apparel maker Esprit.
The couple had purchased thousands of hectares (acres) in Argentine and Chilean Patagonia to make into nature reserves.
In Chile, Tompkins had opened to visitors some of those lands, including Pumalin Park, although on the condition that the area not be used for ends that are at odds with the conservation of its ecosystems.