Kayaks and mortars: Son says dad lucky injuries not worse

LEFT: Fireworks blew gaping holes in these kayaks. (July 2, 2015) RIGHT: Courtesy photo of Randy Willett.


IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — It was an accident that proved kayaks and fireworks don’t mix.

“It was a big mortar, a decent-size mortar,” said Cody Willett, who was kayaking with his dad and three other men Thursday night on Prairie Creek, northeast of Ionia.

They had just launched their kayaks into the creek, near Welch Road, when his dad, Randy Willett, 46, of Grand Rapids, lit off a small mortar without incident from his kayak.

Fireworks blew gaping holes in these kayaks. (July 2, 2015)
Fireworks blew gaping holes in these kayaks. (July 2, 2015)

Moments later, his dad lit a bigger mortar, also from the boat, he said.

“He was going to light it and as soon as he lit it, the fuse just went and it ignited the gunpowder,” he said.

That gunpowder was supposed to launch the mortar into the sky. “That’s what it’s supposed to do is shoot it out of the tube, have a second or two delay, then explode.”

Instead, he said, there was a sudden cloud of black smoke.

“So he dropped it, his first instinct, into the water, and it exploded,” he said. “He went flying, the dude next to him went over, tipped over, the dude next to him gets out, running, screaming.”

The explosion blew a hole into his dad’s kayak and shattered the kayak that was right next to him.

“My dad’s laying there in the water. I run up to him.”

He immediately saw the damage to his right thigh.

“There’s a bit missing, but it was mostly muscle, no tendons, no arteries got hit, no bones, nothing like that.”

The man in the other kayak suffered burns to his back. “His whole back was burnt,” the son said. “His underwear, like a piece of it, was melted onto his skin.”

He said he used his shirt as a tourniquet on his dad’s leg.  “I took my shirt off real fast, cut the circulation off. That’s the only thing I knew. I was panicking. It’s the first thing I thought of.”

Help arrived within minutes.

“He was talking the whole time, he knew everything. as soon as it happened, he knew what he did.”

“He got lucky. If it would have exploded in his hand, he wouldn’t have a hand right now, that’s for sure.”

The son said he doesn’t know where his dad got the fireworks.

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