AMES, Iowa — The president of the Iowa State Crew Club has released more information about the moments leading up to the fatal boating accident on Little Wall Lake.
Five members of the Iowa State Crew Club were practicing on Little Wall Lake in Hamilton County on March 28 when their boat capsized around 9:30 a.m. Yaakov Ben-David, 20, a sophomore from Washington D.C., and Derek Nanni, 19, a freshman from Normal, Illinois, drowned in the accident. Three other students in the boat survived.
Alexis Aurandt, president of the Iowa State Crew Club, was the coxswain in charge on the boat that day. In a statement to WHO 13, Aurandt explained the club’s decision to practice on the lake that morning and the circumstances surrounding the accident.
Aurandt’s full statement reads:
“At 6:30am Sunday morning, I checked the weather forecast. It was forecasted to be 11-14mph with an increase to 17mph by 11am. There was nothing in the forecast about high winds or gusts. 14mph winds is just cutting it to allow us to get on the water. We decided it would be best to just go up to Little Wall and see what the wind was really like. We arrived at Little Wall a little after 7:30am, and it was very calm that morning. The lake was like glass near some of the shorelines and very tiny ripples everywhere else. So we decided we would put out a boat that morning. We launched our boat around 8:45am. We did a couple warm-up/technique drills until the wind hit at 9:30am. Out of no where, we felt the wind pick up drastically. There was white caps all around us and 1 foot rolling waves. I instantly had us try to turn around and get back to the beach we docked from. We were about half way turned around, putting us perpendicular to the waves, when a wave went right under our boat. It was so powerful that it pushed us completely over. There was no way to correct for it. Before I knew it, we were all in the water and the boat was floating upside down(bottom pointing directly up). I remember hearing frantic breathing. I told everyone to breathe and to comprehend what just happened. We had no idea if anyone had even seen us, and we knew the water was cold. We decided that we all needed to swim to shore. All members on the boat passed their swim tests, and due to the nature of rowing, no one was wearing life jackets.”Alexis Aurandt, president of Iowa State Crew Club
Hamilton County Sheriff Doug Timmons said the lake’s conditions were “rough” and wind speeds were around 20-25 mph when rescue crews arrived that morning. According to the Iowa State Crew Club’s constitution, the team should not row when wind speeds are above 14 mph.
USRowing, the governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States, is conducting a safety review of the accident and of the Iowa State Crew Club’s policies. USRowing provides its athletes with an exemption from state life jacket requirements because of the demands of the sport.
Iowa State University is also conducting an internal review of policies and procedures related to the accident.
In February 2020, the crew club’s president at the time shared safety concerns with Recreation Services at Iowa State University. The president said three actions should be taken: building a dock; repairing or purchasing a new launch/coach boat; and, implementing a mandatory swim test for team members.
The crew club’s president told Recreation Services that a launch/coach boat equipped with life jackets would “allow us to be properly coached on the water and have a safety net if a boat would capsize or other emergency would happen on the water.” When raising these safety concerns, the club president wrote, “As our club stands, it wouldn’t take much for someone to get seriously hurt.”
Of the president’s recommended actions, just the swim competency test was implemented by the club, the university said. Iowa State University is now reviewing whether it adequately responded to the safety concerns brought forward by the crew club’s president in 2020.
The crew club is recognized as a student-led sport club at Iowa State University. Sport clubs are mostly autonomous from the university. Iowa State’s student government largely stopped funding capital projects for most student organizations several years ago. This would include projects like docks and boats, so the crew club had to fundraise for a new dock. The club raised $19,500 out of the $25,000 goal, but to the university’s knowledge, no launch/coach boat was acquired.
Iowa State University is also reviewing whether more oversight and support of student-led sport clubs are necessary. The university already announced it will create the position of Sport Club Safety Officer to work with the clubs.
The Iowa State Crew Club decided it will not practice, compete or hold other activities until the reviews are complete.