Kayakers feared dead

Authorities ended an extensive search for a missing father and his daughter around 5:40 p.m. Sunday — nearly a full day after both were last seen kayaking in Sandusky Bay.
Andy Ouriel
Apr 8, 2013

 

Still unaccounted for are Jonathan Francis, 30, and his daughter, Viola, 12.

As of Sunday night, U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Gabriel Settel couldn't verify whether either is alive or dead.

"Our hearts go out to the family and friends," Settel said.

Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said someone saw both — each in their own kayak — in the water around 5 p.m. Saturday.

The boaters paddled somewhere between a 1-mile stretch spanning from the shoreline of their Crystal Rock neighborhood to the Edison Memorial Bridge.

But another 12 hours transpired before Jonathan's girlfriend, Sheila McClain, reported the two missing around 5 a.m. Sunday.

A widespread hunt launched shortly thereafter, involving U.S. Coast Guard boats zipping through Sandusky Bay and a helicopter hovering high above the water.

Local authorities also scoured shorelines in Erie County and Ottawa County in hopes of finding the two.

The only evidence of their whereabouts occurred around 9 a.m. Sunday when rescue crews located two empty kayaks, one blue and the other green, near Lightner Road on Port Clinton's south side.

Various authorities said neither one of the kayakers wore a lifejacket, based on interviews and witness reports.

"If you are going to go in the water, you have to have personal flotation devices with you," Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick said. "Especially if you are in a low-craft boat, like a kayak or canoe, make sure you put your lifejacket on."

Extreme gusts on Saturday afternoon could've contributed to either or both tipping over and spilling into the bay, Levorchick said.

"Those kayaks aren't made for windy conditions," Levorchick said.

The area where Jonathan and Viola paddled through is about 6 feet deep.

But Captain Patrick Thompson, a master mariner and military ship expert, worries the two experienced a severe case of hypothermia.

"It's not terribly deep out there but the water was at 39 degrees (Saturday)," Thompson said. "At 39 degrees, it would have been freezing. Hypothermia doesn't take long to set in."

On Sunday afternoon, as the official search continued, neighbors walked along Crystal Rock's shoreline in hopes of spotting Jonathan or Viola.

The shoreline's only about a quarter-mile journey from the pair's Linwood Avenue home, where nearly two dozen concerned friends and family members convened around 1 p.m. Sunday.

"They are two wonderful people," Viola's mother Ruth Brown said, wiping away tears trickling down her face.

The pair were often inseparable.

"They would go swimming together, hiking together and do just about anything together outdoors, just to be active," Jonathan's mother Gwen Gwinner said.

Brown told friends about how artistic the Margaretta Middle School student is. The stories then shifted to Viola's maturity, always exemplifying a perfect role model to her two little brothers and younger sister.

"Everything she does is perfect," Brown said.

Jonathan, who's only daughter is Viola, recently dedicated himself to writing an autobiography.

"He was going to school but just wanted to be home with his daughter," Gwinner said. "He was very smart. He was the type of person who was friendly with people and always a polite person."

If anyone has any information about the search, contact the:
• U.S. Coast Guard at 313-910-1055
• Erie County Sheriff's Office at 419-625-7951

 

Comments

Kottage Kat

Prayers to the family

MrSandusky

Hate to hear stories like this.

Yesterday the comments section for this story somehow turned into a flame war. Come people we are better than that, and hopefully the Register is better than that. If the Register spent as much time improving how the commenting section works (like the Blade did) as they spend time blasting prosecutors and LEO's in Sandusky County this website and the comments would be so much more civil. But then again it would not generate as many hits, and it is all about the money isn't it?

YAWWNN

Could this be a case of abduction? I'm not trying to get anything going but a remember a similar case in another state where a father and daughter went kayacking on a river. The found both of their kayacks a day later and assumed they were dead. 6 mos later they turned up living in Canada. Just saying, there is always that possibility.

FlyBoy86

I was talking to my wife about this. If they went to the Edison Bridge from Crystal Rock it's only 3 to 5 feet of water. If they did indeed die from hypothermia, the bodies would be found near the locations of the kayaks. With the bay being 3 to 5 feet, it wouldn't be hard to spot bodies in the water. I do hope for the best in the situation.

Erie Countian

Prayers to the family and friends of Mr. Francis and his daughter. It's interesting to read that some think this may be a hoax to cover up an abduction. I actually hope that IS the case and that this isn't the tragedy it appears to be. Hopefully there will soon be answers one way or the other.

Noitall

I wouldn't doubt frankie staging this whole thing. I've heard him talk in the past during his drunken rages/ramblings about running away with viola.

TRISTINPRUITT

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

YAWWNN

You know, these same comments were made by family members of the father and daughter that I was referring to. They insisted there is no way they would have done it. Well...they did. I'm not saying this is the case, but sometimes you don't really know someone. Besides, it sounds to me like you hope they are dead? After all, wouldn't you rather they be alive in Canada, then dead? It makes no sense to bash someone because they have a theory that could very well lead to them both being alive and well. That sure is alot more positive than you insisting they befell some tragedy...don't ya think?

starryeyes83

Stop with the karma bs. For specualtion? That's not what karma is all about look up the true definition... Anything is possible...Wouldn't you rather them alive and running to Canada? If the FBI were called in they would be tracking that scenario , too. Given the fact that the dad had made those statements.

Stranger things have happened. Still can't understand why someone would choose to go out in this chilly of weather with the water that cold and no lifejackets.

TRISTINPRUITT

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

YAWWNN

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

Noitall

Not a family member. I'm sad that no matter what has transpired; he ultimately subjected his daughter to harsh conditions by going out in the bay in early april with freezing water & NO life jackets or wet suits. The preferred kayak of choice should have been a 12 foot sit-on-top that way in case of tipping over, you can pull yourself up on top of the kayak and you have the scupper holes which release water unlike a sit-in kayak. Sit-ins are VERY hard to get back into. Then again, i've heard him talk in the past about running away. It's just speculation into whether or not all avenues of the disappearance are looked into.

Commenter

Unless it was a well staged hoax there is no way they could have survived in the water for this long - Time was off the essence. Why did it take so long for anyone to call for help? Why not before dark?

TRISTINPRUITT

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

Kelly

Windy day, freezing water, and no life jackets even for the kid? Sounds suspicious to me.

sandtown born a...

It sure dont sound right I will say. A tragic oversight very possible. Respect mother nature os she will demand respect in her own way. Stay safe and I hope for a safe return of these 2.

entitled to my ...

I realize this is a public forum to express our opinions, however, try to respect the feelings of the family members and friends. Also, I believe Viola is a sixth or seventh grader at Margaretta Middle School. I am sure all of her friends and Teachers are having a difficult time in school today.
This isn't the right time or place to be making accusations. Right now this family needs support and PRAYERS!
God Bless to the family and friends. I will continue to pray.....

entitled to my ...

Re: Noitall
I pray that he DID in fact "run away" with Viola! That being said-it is cruel to put that theory out there, to give the family "false hope". Is his car missing? Have any credit cards been used? Did he have a large amount of cash on him? Stop speculating, and give the "proper authorities" the chance to investigate. The authorities have not suggested that this is anything more than a tragic accident. I suggest you keep your conspiracy theories to yourself. Just my opinion.........

magiclady

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

asecretlife

Please tell me that isn't a mug shot of the father. If it is, why would you use that picture?? c'mon!

loulou589

There is a little girl and her father missing and all you can talk about is how her mother and step father are druggies???? Really C'mon...I know this family very well and they may have their issues but doesn't everyone?? I just pray that the outcome of Viola and her father are good and I am praying for them.

LisaLeibacher

Regardless of what happened, a Father and his beautiful baby girl are missing. Family and friends are devastated...my thoughts and prayers are with them all. GOD is the only one in charge so lets focus on doing the only thing that we can do in this situation...PRAY.

chevygirl2004

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

Cowboy

This is very sad. Children trust that parents will always use good judgement to keep them safe from harms way. It is very sad that the dangers of doing this weren't more obvious to Jonathan. Two lives lost because an adult did not exercise proper caution. Very, very, very, sad.