Witness to deadly kayaking accident recalls moment boater went under ice

Posted at 7:33 PM, Feb 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-08 21:23:45-05

ROCKFORD, Mich. -- A man is dead after kayaking with a long-time friend on the Rogue River near Rockford. Thomas Shepard, 65, worked decades helping children who suffered from abuse and was a well trained kayaker. He and friend Dan Silverthorne ventured out on a kayaking trip on the Rogue River near Rockford on Saturday afternoon.

The two men had scouted the location for a few days and decided to take their boats into the water. About a mile into their trip, the two came across their first chunk of ice, Silverthorne said.

"We didn't expect it, but we made a plan for it right then, hoping we didn't run into anymore. But if we did, we wanted to be safe about it."

A little further down the river, the two men decided that the conditions weren't safe. "We were both pretty fatigued, and we were getting cold, and we had full wet suits," said Silverthorne. "I looked at him, and he looked at me, and he said, 'If we fall out of these boats, you know we are going under that ice,' And I said, 'You are right.'"

While attempting to reach the river bank, the two worked to stay afloat when the unthinkable happened.

"I turned around and he was gone," said Silverthorne. "His boat wasn't turned over. His boat wasn't taking on water. He was just gone, and I started screaming for help. I'll never know what happened."

Silverthorne said that he planned to use his safety line and jump into the water to search for Shepard, who he presumed was stuck under the ice, but he couldn't find anything to attach the line to.

Shepard's body was pulled from the river on Sunday.

Shepard served three tours in Vietnam and earned two master's degrees in psychology. Silversthorne said his friend dedicated his life to helping children. "There are people out there right now that are adults that are where they are at because of Tom Shepard. That's a fact," said Silverthorne. "He was a thinker. He was very wise. But on top of that, you know, I always called him my hero."

The Kent County Sheriff's Department, Plainfield and Cannon Township Fire Departments, and Aero Med all took part in the search.