A 68-year-old Durango man died by drowning Monday after tipping in his kayak at Pastorius Reservoir southeast of Durango, according to the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
The victim was identified as Bart J. Rabkin, a longtime La Plata County resident who owned Bart’s Deli and used to be a co-owner of Durango Diner.
A woman witnessed Rabkin go into the water by capsizing his fishing kayak and heard him yell for help Monday morning near the east side of the reservoir, said Chris Burke, spokesman with the Sheriff’s Office. The woman then saw him go under the water without coming back up, Burke said.
She called 911 at 10:41 a.m. Monday, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office, Durango Fire Protection District and Flight For Life responded to the area. They attempted rescue efforts for about an hour before turning it into a recovery effort, Burke said.
Because of the “overwhelming vegetation and low visibility” in the water, the Southwest Colorado Regional Scuba Dive team was called to assist the Sheriff’s Office. A K-9 unit and drone were also used in the rescue and recovery effort, he said.
Pastorius Reservoir is a state wildlife area managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which manages water-based recreation locations across the state. As such, it is equipped to search for objects underwater, said Grant Brown, the agency’s boat safety manager.
The Marine Evidence Recovery Team based in Littleton arrived Monday night and searched the water from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Tuesday, he said. The team used sonar, which was not effective because the bottom of the reservoir is so thick with weeds, Brown said.
The team then used an underwater drone equipped with a camera, which was successful at locating Rabkin’s body, he said.
He was not wearing a personal flotation device, according to Parks and Wildlife.
A coroner is expected to determine the exact cause of death.
Rabkin, along with Gary Broad, a boyhood friend from New York, bought the Durango Diner in 1980. He sold his half of the business to Broad in 1999, saying he was ready for a change and wanted to spend more time with his family, according to The Durango Herald archives.