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Kayakers found in Tajikistan

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

The five kayakers, including three Durango men, who called for emergency help Monday while on the way to a river in the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, were found safe Thursday. One was ill.

Durangoan Ben Luck, suffering from hypothermia and altitude sickness, was airlifted to the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, said Julia Klema, speaking from her parents’ home in Durango. Her brothers Matthew and Nathan Klema are among the kayakers.

To reach the Muksu River, the kayakers had to cross Takhtakorum Pass, which is listed as 16,800 feet in elevation.

Klema said her father, Tom, was notified of the rescue at 3 a.m. today or 2 p.m. in Tajikistan. The search for the men was coordinated by GEOS Alliance, an emergency-response service, which alerted the Klema family of the call for help Monday.

The U.S. State Department in Washington said in a statement issued Thursday, “We are pleased to report that the U.S. citizen kayakers in Tajikistan have been located. One U.S. citizen requested consular assistance, which the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe provided. We cannot provide further details regarding the group due to privacy considerations.”

The other members of the expedition are Cooper Lambla and Charles King. The men were dropped off Sunday in Badakhshan National Park, from which they were going to hike to the Muksu River for a five-day adventure.

Klema said her brothers, Lambla and King are resupplying their rations and intend to continue. She didn’t know what Luck’s plans are. They had backtracked some distance carrying Luck before the helicopter found them, Klema said.

The other four men left their gear and kayaks at the river. An earlier report that a broken kayak was found at the river by a search helicopter was not true, Klema said.

Tom Klema, father of Nathan and Matthew, said there is no concrete evidence that Luck suffered a broken leg as reported elsewhere, including by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

He said the helicopter that picked up Luck is a Russian-built MI-8, which seats more than 20. It is owned by a private Tajik firm, Kam Air.

The kayakers arrived in Tajikistan from neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where they had been kayaking and hiking for a month. They started their international expedition in late July with a month in Siberia.

The men planned to visit Nepal and perhaps India and China, Julia Klema said. She said they didn’t plan to return until December at the earliest.

The Klema brothers, Nathan, 24, Matthew, 29, and Luck, 24, are students at Fort Lewis College. They took a year away from campus to explore foreign rivers. The Klema brothers work seasonally as guides on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

The SOS call the Klemas received Monday carried no text, only a standard call for help and the geographical coordinates of the transmission.

Family members were led to think that one of the kayakers had health issues because the geographical coordinates of a second SOS on Tuesday indicated the men had traveled only six miles, Julia Klema said.

It’s been tough year for Nathan Klema. He escaped injury in February when one friend was killed and another was injured when caught by an avalanche near Silverton Mountain Ski Area.

GEOS Alliance coordinated the evacuation of the kayakers, but the Klemas received offers of help and names of contacts from a number of people, including the men’s guide and driver in Siberia, Julia Klema said.


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