ExWeb Explores What Happened to Angela Madsen

A few weeks back the ocean rowing community—and outdoor adventure community at large—was stunned at the news of the death of Angela Madsen. At the time, Madsen had been attempting a solo row from California to Hawaii, battling high winds and strong currents in an effort to escape the continental shelf. But after she failed to call home on the weekend of June 20, Madsen’s wife Debra became concerned.

This eventually led to a search and rescue operation, which discovered Angela’s body floating in the water next to her boat. Since then, there has been a lot of speculation and puzzlement over what might have happened.

After all, Madsen was a very experienced ocean rower who had spent a lot of time out on the water. Recently we’ve gained some new insights into the mystery, although it is likely we’ll never know for sure what exactly happened on that fateful day out on the Pacific.

This past weekend, Debra Madsen posted an update to Angela’s Facebook page, sharing some information with her fans for the first time. ExWeb has compiled that information and put together a story based on the post.

Essentially, Debra and Angela has been in communication via satellite phone with both getting a bit nervous about an impending cyclone that could hit the area that the rower was passing through.  Angela was nearing her furthest point from land and there was little marine traffic in the area should she run into trouble.

The two women thought it best that Angela deploy her sea anchor—a nautical parachute of sorts designed to hold her in place—and prepare to ride out the storm. The plan was for her to get into the water on Sunday morning, June 21 to do just that. What happened after is a mystery, as there was no further communication from Angela.

The rest of the story is known to us. When Angela couldn’t be reached by sat phone, email, or text, Debra began to worry. On Monday, she contacted the U.S. Coast Guard who organized a search mission and reached out to passing ships to coordinate a rescue. By the time an aircraft found Angela’s boat, she had already passed away. How that happened is unclear, although Debra has some thought. She says:

“I believe Angela entered the water about 10:30am, Sunday June 21. She was in board shorts and a sports bra (this I know). She was tethered to the boat. The water temperature was about 72 degrees. The plan was to hop in, replace the shackle, and hop back in the boat. Angela has never had trouble getting back into the boat from the water. The boat sits close to the water and she is crazy strong.

I believe when she tried to get back in the boat her tether was caught on something that did not allow enough slack for Angela to get back in the boat. She may have been in the water longer than planned, trying free the tether.

I think that and possible hypothermia led to her demise. Because of her paraplegia, she had little to no sensation in the lower half of her body. It’s possible that hypothermia was setting in before she even realized it. By the time she realized it was too late to recover. She may have gone unconscious or had a heart attack, but ultimately it led to her passing.”

That seems to be as logical of an explanation as we’re likely to get. It is hard for Angela’s friends and family to get closure, but hopefully they are finding some solace in their shared love for the woman. She was definitely an inspiration to many and will be missed.

Kraig Becker