Flying fish story: kayakers in Florida Keys beware

Ahhh, kayaking in the Florida Keys: warm sun, turquoise waters, and ... bounding barracudas? A woman who was struck and badly injured by a flying fish is reunited with her rescuer.

Courtesy of Cloud 9 Living/MCT/Newscom
A kayaker is shown on the Oleta River in Miami-Dade County, Florida. A woman was struck and badly injured by a flying fish while kayaking in the Florida Keys last October.

Sea kayakers in south Florida may face more than just the usual danger of big sharks and drowning. There’s also a risk of being in the path of a leaping fish.

That’s what happened to Karri Larson as she was kayaking the turquoise waters off Howe Key in the Florida Keys with her boyfriend last October.

Ms. Larson never saw the offending fish, but she believes the aquatic missile was an airborne barracuda. It struck her in the back, cracking a rib and causing serious internal injuries. The incident happened in shallow water and the Coast Guard was unable to get to her.

That’s when Captain Kevin Freestone, who runs a Tow Boat US operation in the Keys, swung into action. He maneuvered his boat across the flats, picked up Ms. Larson and transported her to a nearby marina. She was then rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

On Wednesday, Capt. Freestone and Larson were reunited in Marathon, Fla., as the Coast Guard presented the tow boat captain with a Public Service Commendation Award.

Freestone was modest about his role, saying it was just part of his job. “A lot of it is just towing boats, but I get the most enjoyment out of just helping people out,” he said.

The Coast Guard said it is rare for boaters to be struck by leaping fish, but that it can happen. In March 2008, a Michigan woman was killed when an 80-pound spotted eagle ray with a five-foot wing span flew into the boat and struck her.

In 2006, a spotted eagle ray flew out of the water and lodged its poisonous barb in the chest of an 81-year-old who was fishing in a small boat. He survived the encounter.

“It is very rare,” Coast Guard Lt. Anna Dixon said of airborne fish collisions. But she added that it is a good idea to have some form of communications on board – a cell phone or hand-held radio – just in case.

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