North Face founder dies in Chile kayaking accident

North Face founder dies in Chile kayaking accident
U.S. millionaire conservationist Douglas Tompkins died on December 8, 2015 aged 72.
PHOTO: Reuters

SANTIAGO - US billionaire Douglas Tompkins, who co-founded the outdoor label The North Face and went on to be a prominent conservationist and philanthropist, died in a kayaking accident in Chile's Patagonia region, the government said.

The 72-year-old succumbed Tuesday to severe hypothermia after his kayak capsized on Lake Carrera in southern Chile, said the health department of Chile's Aysen region.

Tompkins was kayaking with four other Americans and a Mexican when violent winds generated waves that tossed them all into the near-freezing water.

A Chilean navy ship rescued the group and Tompkins was taken by private helicopter to the hospital in the town of Coyhaique where he died.

When he was recovered from the lake, his body temperature was 19 degrees Celsius (66 Fahrenheit), the regional health department said.

Tompkins founded the American outdoor clothing and camping label The North Face in 1964 with a partner.

Four years later he helped his first wife, Susie Tompkins Buell, establish the clothing brand Esprit and grow it into a big business before their divorce in 1989.

After selling his stakes in The North Face and Esprit for a fortune, Tompkins retired to Chile in 1990 and became a noted conservationist and philanthropist.

"He flew airplanes, he climbed to the top of mountains all over the world," his daughter Summer Tompkins Walker told the New York Times. "To have lost his life in a lake and have nature just sort of gobble him up is just shocking." "There wasn't anything we were afraid of, there wasn't anything we couldn't figure out how to do," said Buell, according to the Times. She was married to Tompkins from 1964 until 1989.

"It was just an open book of adventure," Buell said.

Tompkins worked to create a string of natural parks, and donated 8,000 square kilometers (3,000 square miles) to Chile and Argentina to help preserve a forest region on their border.

But he attracted criticism from some Chilean politicians who accused him of leading an ecological sect and of trying to control key Patagonian waterways.

"Lately I've been paying more attention to my biological clock. I tell myself to hurry up, that I have to do everything before death catches me," he said in his last interview given in November to a magazine.

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