Kayaker who died in Rogue River ‘a good man’

A Feb. 7, 2015 courtesy photo of Thomas Shepard.


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County authorities recovered the body of a kayaker in the Rogue River Sunday, the day after he went under the water.

The kayaker has been identified as 65-year-old Thomas Shepard of Grand Rapids.

“He was just a good man,” Dan Silverthorne, Shepard’s kayaking companion, said.

Shepard and Silverthorne went kayaking Saturday in the Rogue River in Plainfield Township, northeast of Grand Rapids. Silverthorne, 50, of Grand Rapids, snapped a photo of his friend before they took to the water.

Silverthorne said the pair knew what they were doing. They went kayaking often — once or twice a week — and gauged the river before their most recent trip.

“We had scouted this thing in six different places and in everyone of them, the river was running and it was wide,” Silverthorne said.

But around 2:30 p.m., they came upon a large body of ice.

“He (Shepard) said, ‘You know, if we go out of these boats, we are going under that ice.’ And I said, ‘Yeah I know,'” Silverthorne said.

Still, the men gave it a try because they didn’t have any other options. The water was moving fast and they couldn’t turn around to paddle against the current.

“I took out my ax. I swung it out of the boat. I locked onto the ice. I had my safety line in the other hand and I pulled myself up onto my knees. When I turned around, he was gone,” Silverthorne remembered.

Shepard’s kayak began to take on water and he was pulled under the ice shelf by the current, according to the sheriff’s department. Silverthorne tried to help him, but couldn’t. He found some nearby residents, who called 911.

“I’ll never know if there was something I could have done different,” Silverthorne said.

Authorities responded to the area of Rio Rogue Lane and Roguewood Drive NE and began searching for Shepard. The sheriff’s department dive team and Plainfield and Cannon Township Fire Departments, with help from Aero Med, conducted an “extensive” search Saturday, but had to call it off once conditions became unsafe.

Emergency responders continued searching Sunday, at which point they discovered Shepard’s body a short distance from where he had last been seen alive.

The sheriff’s department said no foul play is suspected, but that neither man was wearing a life jacket. Authorities urged boaters to wear personal flotation devices.

Silverthorne said Shepard served three tours in Vietnam and devoted his professional life to helping abused children. A fund is expected to be established in Shepard’s name.

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