Karen L. Norton (1965-1990)

Headshot of Karen Lee Norton smiling.

About Karen L. Norton (1965-1990)


Karen Lee Norton was born on April 15, 1965, and she was raised in Syracuse, New York. During high school, she participated in themarching band and Honor Society. She attended the University of New York and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology. Norton was also an active member of the community. She volunteered at the local fire department and worked as a Wildland Firefighting Crew member during summers. Norton became involved in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) when she became a Student Conservation Association volunteer (SCA). She was served at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge as a member of the Aleutian Islands Unit until her death.

Cause of Death

On January 29, 1990, four Service members on the USS Kittiwake were returning to the Adak Naval Air Facility after establishing a fox control camp on Kagalaska Island when they were caught in a sudden and severe snowstorm in the Bering Sea. The USS Kittiwake’s navigational equipment was damaged, and the snowstorm further reduced their ability to navigate. Strong waves broke the windows on the boat, and the Service vessel ultimately capsized. The following morning, a Coast Guard and Navy search and rescue team located two of the Service members in time to take them to the hospital for treatment: Biological Technician Jim Fuller and SCA Volunteer Heather Vose. However, Norton and John T. Cantu, a Service employee, both died from a combination of hypothermia and drowning before they could be saved. Norton received a memorial service at Adak Chapel and was buried in Syracuse, New York. Furthermore, the SCA maintains the Karen Norton Memorial Fund as an endowed fund to support volunteers and programs in her memory.


  • Allen, David B. “Summary of accidental deaths of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees in Alaska since 1958.” Received by Blake Sasse, 17 Feb. 1998. 
  • “Annual Narrative Report Calendar Year 1990.” Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, 1990.
  • “In Memoriam: Karen Norton.” The Alaska Legislature, 16 Mar. 1990.
  • “Karen Lee Norton.” Find A Grave, www.findagrave.com/memorial/23925228/karen-lee-norton
  • “Student Conservation Association 2021 Annual Report.” Student Conservation Association, 2021.

Key Fields

Born 1965, Died 1990, Age 24, Female, Student Conservation Association volunteer, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, Boat, Drowning, Hypothermia, Eponym