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Alcatraz Swim Death: “Those Were Not The Roughest Conditions”

Alcatraz organizers say water conditions were not the cause of death.

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Alcatraz organizers say water conditions were not the cause of death.

Yesterday’s tragic death of a 46-year-old man at the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon has raised questions about the conditions of the notoriously rough swim in the San Francisco Bay. But, as race officials said in a statement, the loss—the first death at the 33-year-old event—was a result of a “massive cardiac event” that happened almost immediately after the man entered the water.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. When he died, a part of me died,” says Eric Gilsenan, who has done the event 25 times and coaches a camp called the Escape From Alcatraz Academy. He says two factors are important to note: The man was pulled from the water one minute into the swim, and he had previously competed in the event seven years ago.

“Alcatraz is an anxiety-riddled race moreso than any other race,” Gilsenan says. “My passion is to explain this race and this is why we do the Escape Academy clinics. At IMG, we care … Having done this swim about 60 times, done the crossing on boats while leading the Academy dozens of times and having done this race 25 times…it wasn’t glassy, but those were not the roughest conditions.”

There has also been speculation about the colder temperatures—it’s typically 55–56 degrees and yesterday was 51–52—as a result of moving the event from June to March. Race director Bill Burke talked to the San Francisco Chronicle after the event. “Was it colder than normal? Yes. But in my opinion, the water temperature was not a factor at all in this tragedy,” he says. “The gentleman obviously had a heart condition he was unaware of.”

Race organizers have a process in place to increase the safety for participants, and more will be shared in the coming months.