A video filmed by a stunt motorcyclist who drowned in Canyon Ferry Reservoir has provided answers to authorities and his loved ones about what went wrong the night of July 23.
Blake Becker, 19, of Clancy, was wearing a GoPro video camera when he attempted to ride a modified motorcycle across the surface of the reservoir.
While snapping the buckles on his life preserver before the ride, Becker can be seen on video inadvertently fastening his final buckle around one of two coils of paracord attached to his motorcycle. The ropes were attached to buoys intended to facilitate recovery of the bike from the water.
The “fatal error” is what caused Blake to sink with his motorcycle after the engine seized up, said Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.
“One minor mistake cost the life of a very talented young man,” he said.
After three weeks of searching, a deep-water specialist located the bike and body in the old river channel in about 120 feet of water.
Dutton and Blake’s father, Stan Becker, met with the media Monday to view the video and offer caution to others. They hoped the message would save another family from losing a loved one.
In the beginning of the video, Stan and Blake prepare on shore when the father alerts his son to fasten his life preserver. Blake then snaps the buckles with the bottom one around the rope.
The edited video then cuts to Blake on the water in nearly total darkness. His engine can be heard losing power before a “chase boat” following in support passes him. As he hits the wake, the engine cuts completely.
In footage that was not shown, the boat turns to come back about 10 seconds later, but by that time Blake was estimated to be 20 to 30 feet below the surface and far too deep to rescue, Dutton said.
Blake never called out for help, in theory, because he was concentrating on dispatching the ropes and went under quickly.
Stan, at times overcome with emotion, recalled the day as Blake prepared for the night ride and a party with his friends.
Blake successfully rode 17 miles across the water in the daytime, but the additional danger of the darkness concerned his father.
“We went round and round that day,” Stan said. “He didn’t want to disappoint all the people that showed up for his party.”
Also concerning was the wear and tear from the two runs the bike already completed. Snowmobilers crossing water report engines only surviving two or three runs before needing rebuilds. The Beckers were planning to rebuild the engine that week, but Blake believed the 3-mile crossing was well within his abilities and the bike was running well, Stan said.
The Beckers also had plans to install more safety flotation on the motorcycle that would have kept the bike and rider on the surface.
“If he had just waited one week, we’d have had a fresh engine, all the inflatables on the bike and one of the avalanche inflation devices on his back,” Stan said.
“This was supposed to be his last run – the engine was going to come out of the frame, the skis would’ve come off and he was going to start college next week.”
Blake planned to attend Helena College with the goal of becoming a police officer.
Blake graduated from Capital High School and was said to be talented in machining. He designed and built the bike with skis and a paddle wheel -- a time-consuming and expensive process of meticulous engineering.
The bike was light and powerful, and the attention he received from his previous runs gave him immense confidence. He received tweets from around the world, the accolades of sponsors and attention from a Hollywood stunt company.
“I guess to all the parents out there, stand your ground,” Stan said. “When you have a lake that is this deep, algae grown and you think it’s fun and games, it can turn south really fast.
“A lot of things went to his head that nothing can go wrong. It’s our job as parents to worry.”
Some of Blake’s friends enquired about a tribute ride using the bike, but Stan has unequivocally rejected the idea. The skis have been cut up and the schematics for the build deleted so that others will not attempt to replicate the design, he said.
Despite the clear emotional toll of watching the footage, Stan says he is thankful both for authorities investigating the accident and for his family that the GoPro was filming.
“We have absolute truth. I’m sure there’s been many cases in the past where you have a lot of unknowns and speculation going off witness accounts,” he said. “I’m just thankful we had the GoPro and we can close this out and be proud that we have the best information we possibly have.”
Stan has no ill feelings toward those in the boat who were not equipped for a rescue. He and his family are thankful to law enforcement, private boaters who volunteered and Lewis and Clark Search and Rescue who responded within half an hour to search.
The family asks that those wishing to donate in Blake’s memory donate to their local search and rescue group.
“These are your neighbors that come to help you,” Stan said.