Two Navy men die in kayaking accident near Libbey Beach

Two active-duty Navy men were killed over the weekend in a kayaking accident on the west side of Whidbey Island, according to the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop identified the two men as 25-year-old Vinson C. Ya and 21-year-old Joseph T. Lee. They were both with VAQ-129 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

The two men left to go fishing at about 4 p.m. on Saturday. They rented two “recreational kayaks” and borrowed a pickup truck from a friend, Bishop said.

The two men went into the water in separate kayaks at Libbey Beach Park. They were both wearing life jackets. Their friends expected them back by 9 p.m.

At 9:55 p.m., a resident reported hearing someone crying for help from the water in the area, but could only see one boat that seemed to be under power and not in distress. He called 911 and reported what he heard, according to Bishop.

The call prompted a search of the waters on the area. Chief Marv Koorn with North Whidbey Fire & Rescue said his agency responded with Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.

Koorn said they thought they were looking for a boat that was traveling south past Libbey Beach.

“At no point did we realize that there were kayakers out there,” he said.

The search was called off at about 11:30 p.m. when nothing was found. The Coast Guard located the boat in question at 1:30 Sunday morning and reported that he was fine.

At about 6 a.m. Sunday, a couple from Federal Way were walking the beach and found Ya’s body about one-half mile north of Libbey Park. The kayak was about 50 feet from the body, Bishop said.

Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue personnel arrived in a boat to retrieve the body from the beach. Bishop said he was with them on the way back to Keystone Harbor when they spotted the other kayak about one-half mile south of Libbey Beach Park. They found Lee’s body about 200 yards off shore.

Bishop said the men’s friends reported them missing at about the time their bodies were being recovered.

The autopsies were performed Sunday. The manner and cause of death for both men was accidental saltwater drowning with hypothermia, according to Bishop. The time of death was approximately 10 p.m.

Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office said there’s no reason to suspect anything other than an accident.

He cautioned that the water on the west side of the island can be especially choppy and dangerous.

“Even as we’re coming into summer time, the water is still cold,” he said.