Victim drowns at sea


Victim called to friend for help, but turbulent waters hampered rescue.

By Cortney Litwin/Staff Writer

Two men in a kayak capsized into turbulent waters off Corral Beach Friday night, struggling in the darkness and howling winds to regain control of their craft, leaving one lost at sea.

Eric Hammer, 20, of Westlake, tried to save his friend who was calling to him for help, but Malibu resident Nicolas Buttle, 55, is presumed drowned, according to sheriff’s officials.

The day had started out innocently enough.

“They were working on a sailboat that was offshore in front of Nick’s [Buttle’s] house,” said Gene Arnold, owner of The Vitamin Barn where Hammer works. “They were using the kayak to get to the sailboat, when one of the kayaks got away.” He said the two men thought retrieving the kayak would only take a short time, so they didn’t bother to wear life preservers.

But 60 mph Santa Ana winds blowing straight out to sea whipped the 4- to 6-foot surf, turning the outing into a deadly fight for survival.

Hammer managed to call 911 on his cell phone while in the water, but he got disconnected. According to lifeguard specialist Ryan Addison, Hammer then called his brother, who finally alerted authorities around 5 o’clock. Hammer’s girlfriend and several witnesses also realized the two were in trouble and called the lifeguards.

The high winds and darkness made it difficult to find them.

A rescue helicopter finally spotted the unmanned kayak between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., and then a few minutes later, Capt. Jay Butki and Addison rescued Hammer, who was clinging to the side of the second kayak. He had been immersed in cold ocean waters for five hours.

“They started only 300 yards offshore, but when we found Hammer, I believe he was 5 miles off the beach,” said Addison. “He was hypothermic but coherent.”

Hammer was taken to the Malibu Pier, where he was treated by paramedics and then airlifted to UCLA Medical Center.

Arnold said Hammer is recovering at home, “under wraps and very shaken by the situation.”