The Newfoundland incident did not surprise me. In fact, it illustrates well one of the many ways less-experienced sea kayakers can get into fatal trouble out there, and thus also shows that maybe sea kayaking has been oversold to a general public as safe fun for one and all.
It is very easy for someone inexperienced in sea and wind, paddling a tiny, tippy boat, to fall prey to an offshore wind. One launches from a weather shore onto relatively calm water, and, with the wind at one's back helping one along, finds it so easy and pleasant (for a while) to go with the flow farther and farther out. The end comes quickly, with a sudden and horrifying realization that things are out of control. The paddler tries desperately to turn the boat around and paddle back; the wind begins to roar in their ears; they are now taking the growing waves beam-on, and over they go.
Here in Jersey, we had an incident on a local reservoir that is a magnet for paddlers. This was March 2002, and a young man launched his newly-acquired kayak from the weather-shore put-in on a blustery and cool but sunny day, clad only in jeans and a heavy sweatshirt. Died very quickly under conditions exactly like Newfoundland. I posted the story as a cautionary incident on our local Message Board, warning against the dangers of weather-shore launching and downwind paddling for newbies, and then engaged in a long debate with those who felt the reservoir in question was a perfectly safe place to paddle anytime, for anyone, and that therefore the victim was some sort of idiot. No, he wasn't an idiot; he was just somebody who just didn't know, and didn't know that he didn't know. Yet another reason why it should be stressed over and over again that sea kayaking is the most basic and primitive form of marine boating and that sea kayakers need to be the most knowledgable, best-informed mariners on the water. Do they tell you that when you go into the sporting-goods store? Not bloody likely.