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Family mourns kayaker who died paddling with twin on Lake Ontario

Jacob McCormick and his twin brother Nathaniel did everything together.

If one brother bought new boots, the other brother did the same, said relatives. They even had their own language when they were growing up, said an aunt.

The 21-year-old brothers also loved the outdoors, whether it be skydiving together or enjoying their latest passion — kayaking.

On Labor Day weekend, they traveled from their home in Duncansville, Pa., to Niagara County to visit their grandparents, Kathy and John McCormick, of Barker. They brought their kayaks and a good friend, Joseph Williams, 18, who lived near them in the Altoona area.

The twins paddled out on Lake Ontario with Williams on Sunday and had such a good time that they decided to go out again Monday on the lake before heading home, a family member said.

But this time, the outing ended in tragedy.

Their grandparents said the boys set out at 10:30 a.m. Monday. They had only planned to be out a few hours, but at 3:30 p.m., when they had not returned, the family started getting worried. At 5:30 p.m., as threats of severe weather started coming in, the family contacted the Somerset Police Department and rescue agencies from all over the area started searching.

Nathaniel McCormick and Williams made it to shore just after 6 a.m. Tuesday near Point Breeze in Orleans County, after being stranded on the water all night in the stormy weather without their kayaks. But Jacob McCormick was not found until 8:50 a.m. two hours later, in the water roughly half a mile from shore, also in the Point Breeze area. His kayak was not in sight.

The kayaker was unresponsive, according the U.S. Coast Guard. Crews conducted CPR on McCormick, but were unable to revive him.

Jacob was pronounced deceased at the scene.

Chief Thomas Johnson, officer in charge of the Coast Guard Station Niagara, said the deceased man was wearing a life jacket.

According to State Parks Police Lt. Clyde Doty, the three men ran into trouble in the choppy waters of Lake Ontario when Williams' kayak got swamped with water and capsized. Nathaniel stayed with Williams while Jacob offered to go to shore for help.

As family waited for word on the missing kayakers, a witness told Kathy McCormick that earlier that day a kayaker in a red kayak had come to shore near the Barker boat launch but then the kayaker paddled back into Lake Ontario.

"That's something he would do," said Jacob's aunt, who asked that her name not be published.

Somerset Police Chief John Yotter said crews searched for the three kayakers through Monday night. He said the two survivors were able to make it to shore sometime this morning and were able to start walking until a resident found them and called police.

"They were wet and cold, but they seemed OK," added Yotter.

The lake "got pretty choppy," Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour said about conditions Monday. Then a line of strong thunderstorms and heavy rain swept over the region Monday night and into Tuesday. Voutour said that the windy and stormy weather meant emergency crews were unable to search by helicopter.

Although authorities on Tuesday were not identifying the three kayakers, Pastor Ronald R. Anderson of Calvary Baptist Church in Altoona identified them, noting the McCormick brothers and their families are all active in their church in Altoona.

Family members wait for news Tuesday morning with police on the Lake Ontario shore. (Nancy Fischer/Buffalo News)

The McCormick twins had worked in Western New York for the past three summers, doing maintenance at the Circle C Ranch in Delevan, a Christian campground about 46 miles southeast of Buffalo in Cattaraugus County.

Circle C Ranch director Wayne Aarum said Jacob McCormick met his wife there, the former Johanna Carls of Angelica. They married at the camp just one year ago, said Aarum.

The twins are the sons of Timothy and Stacie McCormick of Duncansville, Pa., and were graduates of Blair County Christian School in Duncansville, said Anderson. They have an older sister, Sarah, and a younger sister, Katie.

"These were outstanding young men, all three of them. Just quality young men," said Anderson."The three young men were active and involved in our youth group and ministry as youth leaders."

"Jacob is going to be very dearly missed," said Anderson.

He said an informal prayer service and counseling was held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Altoona church for friends and family and youth pastors were sent to the Barker area to be with the McCormick family.

Anderson called them model young men who pitched in whenever they were needed, from working on projects in the church to trimming grass.

Jacob McCormick and his wife, the former Johanna Carls of Angelica, N.Y., in a wedding photo. Jacob's body was recovered Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, from Lake Ontario, near Point Breeze in Orleans County, by the U.S. Coast Guard. He had been kayaking Sept. 4 with his twin brother and a friend when his boat capsized during a storm.

He said the twins were very close.

Aarum said the McCormick brothers worked tirelessly at the horseback riding Christian camp in the summers, a camp they attended as youth and then returned to as summer help when they grew older. The brothers both enjoyed working on cars and being mechanics in their free time.

"They are kind of legends here," said Aarum of the twins. "Their work ethic is incredible."

Aarum said the boys are "so physically fit" that it was a surprise to hear Jacob did not make it to the shore of Lake Ontario alive.

Doty said the investigation into the death will continue.

Johnson said none of the men were found with their kayaks and the kayaks were still missing on Tuesday morning.

"The weather was challenging yesterday," said Johnson. "I believe the National Weather Service did have a small craft advisory in effect."

He said kayaking is a popular sport in all the Great Lakes, but it can be hazardous and kayakers need to be prepared.

"You need to file a float plan with your family, have some means of communications and make sure you are wearing your life jacket. If you are out past sunset there are additional safety concerns that you should be aware of, including having some type of signaling devices on board," said Johnson.

Johnson said the three did not have cellphones or any signaling devices with them.

Multiple Coast Guard stations assisted in the search, including teams from Rochester and air station Detroit, as well as the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, State Parks Police, Somerset Police and Olcott and Barker volunteer fire departments. There was also support from the Canadian Coast Guard cutter and aircraft.

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