"It just is so sad. It's been quite awhile since we had anything this tragic in this area," Steve Sandstrom, a Bayfield resident, said.
Ashland County Sheriff's Office identified the deceased father as 39-year-old Erik Fryman from Loyal, Wisconsin. The lone survivor was the wife and mother, also identified as 29-year-old Cari Mews from Loyal.
Mews survived after being picked up by a search and rescue vessel, Ashland authorities say.
"We had multiple assets on scene. We had a small boat station that launched out of Bayfield. Traverse city sent a helicopter over there," U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Daniel Peters, said.
The rescue mission had been set in motion after the mother's sister received "alarming" text messages.
The Coast Guard said the incident happened Thursday evening while the family had been paddling in the area of Michigan island, which is about three miles northeast of Madeline Island.
"You think about how people have to really respect the power of this lake. It's not an inland lake, it's more like an ocean," Sandstrom said.
The Ashland County Sheriff's office said the whole family had been wearing life jackets. The children were 9, 6, and 3 years old. It's highly likely that hypothermia was involved, according to the Coast Guard.
"They all had life jackets on, but had been in the water for quite some time by the time the initial response vessel made it there," Peters said.
"If you're coming up to here or any other place, or if you're planning in outing, make sure you do everything you can to make sure tHat you understand the potential dangers," Sandstrom said.
Authorities first got word of the situation about 8:30 pm.
The Ashland County Communications Center got a call from a woman who said her sister had sent her "alarming text messages reading '911' and 'Michigan Island'."
The woman knew that her sister and family had been vacationing on Madeline Island.
LaPointe Police on Madeline determined that the family had left the island in a kayak earlier in the day with the intention of touring the Apostle Islands.
A water search and rescue mission was launched by various agencies. About 10 p.m., the mother was found in the water alive by a U.S. Geological Survey vessel. She was found on the west side of Michigan Island. Between about midnight and 1 a.m., a U.S. Coast Guard vessel found the father and two of the children dead in the water. Authorities say the search was hampered overnight by strong thunderstorms. A National Park Service vessel found the third child about 10 a.m. Friday morning.
Early comments from the mother were that the family's kayak had capsized between Michigan and Stockton islands, and she became separated from her husband and children.
"The importance of making sure we do a really good job of informing our visitors here of the dangers of this lake. I think that's a responsibility that we all have to take," Sandstrom said.
Loyal, Wisconsin is about an hour east of Eau Claire.
An autopsy will be conducted by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office.
Updated: August 31, 2018 10:29 PM
Created: August 31, 2018 12:12 PM
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