Accident Database

Report ID# 10

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • High Water

Accident Description

This is the accurate account submitted to the Oregon Marine Board: 

Events surrounding 12FEB2017 @ 2:35PM PST on the North Umpqua River – Segment 4 “Bogus Creek to Susan Creek.” To generate and accurate CFS of this Segment you need to add the Copeland Creek & Steamboat Creek Gages.  

Scott Jarrell and I planned on a day full of whitewater rafting the North Umpqua at high winter flows of 5000 Cubic Feet Per Second.  I had been watching the Gauges all week to ensure our trip would be within the tolerance of my 9’6” Saturn Raft and our skill set.  The flows that week were as high as 10,000 CFS but by Sunday February 12, 2017 had lowered to acceptable levels.  A week earlier I had successful run Segment 4 at this same CFS and felt there would be no inherent risk due to the advance whitewater experience Scott and I shared over the last two years.  We started out at Dry Creek (just above Dog Wave Rapid) with the goal of running approximately 18 miles of the North Umpqua River.  We have both competed in the King of the Rogue Whitewater Competition over the last 4 years, I provided the Sawyer Safety Boat for the US Nationals on the Upper Klamath at high water (1800 CFS) and run the North Fork of the Rogue River in September 2016 – documenting a run that no one had ever accomplished before in that type of raft as an R2.  We had a solid team base and extensive whitewater R2 (two people paddle a raft) experience on a very competitive level. 

We had completed over 16 miles of our 18 miles trip with well over 30 rapids.  There were no complications.  During the Safety Brief I did clearly explain to Scott the speed of the current and the necessity to swim to the raft within 10 seconds or we would no longer have a raft and would need to swim to either bank of the river.  I also clearly stated that because he choose a life jacket that had more buoyancy that the additional size would make getting back into the raft more difficult and require a lot of self-rescue on his part with my assistance. 

I practice self-rescue a lot.  I swim the rapids without any boat a lot and swim to the bank to ensure that I can in fact self-rescue without a raft or kayak. 

A the current flow of the day there is a rapid that begins to open up and is a very fun hit but not necessary due to the extensive amount of rapids that form and come into play at 5000 CFS on Segment 4 of the North Umpqua.  I asked Scott if he wanted to go hit this rapid but stated that it was unnecessary.  Scott being Scott said, “let’s do it.”  I knew that we had approximately 50 seconds from that rapid before a significant turn in the river and the beginning of a 300m wave train with two significant Class III rapids with hydraulics would be at the end of the wave train. 

For reasons I cannot understand Scott choose to paddle when I did not give the command to paddle (this is clearly seen on the GoPro raw video) and this stroke caused the bow of the boat to turn right and the rapids hydraulic to grab the lowside tube and tilt the raft approximately 90 degrees and dump both myself and Scott into the North Umpqua.  Scott had always paddled when I gave the command and never paddled when I did not tell him explicitly what to do. 

From the very moment we both resurfaced it appeared that Scott was in trouble.  I do not know if he had an Adrenaline Dump and this rendered him helpless.  Anyone who has been in Combat or participated in extreme sports understands this dynamic of the release of the Adrenal Glad and while it may help some people in more cases than not this release is so strong and accompanied by some measure of fear that the individual becomes drained of energy for at least a few minutes, if not longer. 

Either way Scott was in distress.  I swam immediately to the raft and was able to get into the raft quickly.  Scott was slowly beginning to create distance between the raft and himself.  I desperately called out to him but he was not a very active swimmer, almost lethargic.  Scott’s daughter when watching the video said, “It looks like my dad has never swam in his life and he is a great swimmer.”  I was able to paddle back to Scott knowing that precious time was passing and the corner would arrive in seconds.  I managed to get positive control of Scott just before the corner and attempted to assist him back into the raft.  Scott was unable to Self-Rescue.  I continued to hold on to him and stated that we were entering the Wave Train.  I told him to hold onto the Perimeter Webbing which he did, as I negotiate the Wave Trail as at this flow these are 5-6 tall waves fully capable of flipping our raft.  Upon realizing what was ahead the two Class III hydraulics I desperately tried to get Scott into the raft again but he did not possess any real sense of urgency.  We were heading for a wall and I knew that either the raft would flip and we would both get pinned against the wall (we both die), the raft flips and we get pulled into an undercut (we both die) or I could angle the raft to ricochet off the wall and hopefully run the rest of the rapids successfully.  I choose 3 and Scott went to the rear of the raft and lost his grip before the wall. 

I believe at this point that Scott began to Flush Drown and aspirate water.  He did end up in the most aggressive hydraulic and due to Scott's condition he was unable to time his breaths and or hold his breath and ball up (this would be like stuffing a garden hose down someone’s throat and turning it on full pressure).  He spent at least 3-5 seconds in that rapid.  At this point Scott was unresponsive and floating in the river.  I did get bumped out of the raft again in the same hydraulic (rapid) that Scott aspirated the most water.  I managed to get to the bank to an area where I commonly eddy out (because the largest rapid Commercially Run on the North Umpqua “Island Rapid” was just around the corner.  I thought Scott was along the bank as well but he was not.  A woman who scrambled from the road to river level told me that Scott was not looking good and unresponsive.  I went back into my raft to catch him but the current took Scott River Left into an unknown rapid.  I managed to negotiate that rapid and did find Scott floating in the river with his helmet and PFD intact.  He was completely unresponsive, lips purple, and stiff.  I pulled him into the raft and initiated CPR with 3 other people whose names I do not know and have not seen since that tragic accident.  I believe Scott was dead when I found him as he had no pulse and when the EMT’s did arrive 20 minutes later, he had no shockable rhythm.

I do not believe anything could have prevented this accident.  As a Swift Water Rescue Tech, Rough Terrain Rescue Tech and EMT (Oregon) and nationally competitive whitewater rafter I just do not see it playing out differently.

Another boat would have not reached him in time and they would have thought we were fine considering our skill level as we had 3 different opportunities to Self Rescue.  Another boat would have gone River Right into Island Rapid and Scott ended up River Left (with an Island in the middle). 

The only thing I can think of is that I did not truly know the fitness levels of Scott and at high water, in winter, fitness levels are extremely critical.  I did not pull over and ask Scott what his true stamina was like after the 1st two sections of the river…we just kept going and laughing all the way ...slapping our paddles with each rapid success. 

If I were to emphasize one thing it is that when negotiating High Water it is critical to be very efficient in Self Rescue and if you are not…then you do not belong out in those conditions. 

We were having the time of our lives.

Thank you for your consideration,

Paul C. Eckel

I would like to take the time to thank the whitewater community for being very gracious, the various LE agencies (Douglas County Sheriff, Oregon State Police, US National Forrest Service), 1st Responders and the Good Samaritans who came to my aid on the side of the river and Sawyer Paddles and Oars (Pete Newport) and especially the Jarrell Family for how compoassionate they were and continue to be towards me as we all morn and miss a friend, father, son and brother.  - Paul C. Eckel 

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