Charlotte native among group of kayakers found safe in Tajikistan

Credit: Annie Lambla

Photo of Cooper Lambla kayaking.



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Posted on October 3, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 3 at 6:03 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A Charlotte kayaker feared missing for days in a remote part of central Asia is safe.

Cooper Lambla is a Myers Park High School and Appalachian State graduate.

He and four friends are kayaking in Tajikistan, and on Monday they set off an emergency beacon, sending word for help.

From the online videos, it is clear Cooper Lambla is living his dreams.

“He definitely-- he's living all of our dreams,” laughs friend David Hepp.

Lambla travels the world, kayaking, often in areas so remote that he is dropped in by helicopter. He is considered an expert paddler.

Right now he's traveling with four friends in central Asia, paddling the Muksu River in Tajikistan. But Monday the group sent out a distress signal.

David Hepp worked with Lambla at the U.S. National Whitewater Center for years.

“Everybody was really worried about him because if they’re out there and they hit their spot then something for real is going down, nerve racking not knowing for a couple of days, worrisome.”

Not knowing what was wrong, the families of the five men worked together with the state department to get a helicopter into the remote area.

We spoke by phone with Julia Klema, the sister of Matt and Nate Klema, two brothers also on the trip.

“My heart dropped, you never want to hear that sort of thing. We just know something is wrong because these guys know what they're doing.”

She tells NBC Charlotte one of the other kayakers, Ben Luck, was suffering from life threatening altitude sickness and had to be airlifted to the embassy for treatment.

Cooper and the others are safe and planning to complete their kayaking journey.

“He's awesome at it and he’s a super positive guy, tons of fun to paddle with, just to be around. All of us here are super proud of what he’s done,” Hepp says.

Cooper Lambla's dad, Ken Lambla, is the Dean of the College of Arts and Architecture at UNC Charlotte.

As you can imagine, he says it was a difficult few days as this was all going on, but he says it's clear the critical thinking, knowledge and skill of the team is the reason they're all okay.