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Accident Description


East Fork of the Lewis River near Yacolt, WA: February 27, 1994

Gradient - 73 fpm;  Classification III (V)

SUMMARY:  Barbara Harper, 25, of Portland, Oregon was killed after being pinned and submerged on a log on the East Fork of the Lewis River in Washington State on February 27, 1992. Her body, still pinned in the boat, was recovered 3 days later after rescue workers, using tyroleans and gas powered winches, successfully removed the log from the river.

DESCRIPTION:  Barbara was a strong intermediate kayaker who had been down a number of class IV and V rivers. She was a champion athlete and was exceptionally fit and strong. On the day of the accident, Barb paddled a modern plastic kayak with a keyhole cockpit, bulkheads and floatbags. She was wearing an approved high volume PFD, helmet and drysuit. She was one of the few party members who had done the run before.

The rest of the group consisted of 7 other paddlers who ranged in ability from intermediate to advanced. Two members of the group were Swift Water Rescue Technicians, one was trained as an EMT, and  another had several years of experience as a professional guide. Most of the other boaters had climbing experience and were adept at working as a team with rope and hardware in hazardous situations.  The group was equipped with a rescue lifejacket, plenty of hardware and a variety of throw ropes.

The run began on Rock Creek, a small tributary to the main river.  It contained a variety of hazards ranging from abandoned foot bridge cable to river wide log jams. The group portaged around 4 or 5 hazards and spent a great deal of time out of their boats scouting. Once the group entered the main river, there were fewer obstacles, but they stayed together and proceeded conservatively.

Approximately 1 mile upstream from Naked Falls the group eddied out above a class III drop to scout from their boats. A log, 8" in diameter, rose vertically out of the water, pointing upstream at about 50 degrees to the surface. The group assessed the situation and observed a clear route to the right of the log with plenty of room to maneuver. One by one, three boaters left the eddy and two easily avoided the log. The third boater later commented that he momentarily contemplated going left of the log, then opted to go right. He had to paddle somewhat aggressively to compensate for his indecisiveness. Barbara then left the eddy. She was in control and ferrying right of the log when she appeared to hesitate for a moment. She then attempted to paddle and hit the log broadside, across the cockpit of the boat. She "bear-hugged" the log, and after being tossed around, was completely submerged.

Four of the group scrambled ashore, one remained in their kayak, and two paddled downstream for help. A swimmer, secured by a rope attached to his rescue jacket, attempted several times to reach Barbara's stern which was about a foot underwater. After several attempts, he connected a static line from the shore to the log. The rescue swimmer then reached the boat but was unable to attach a line in the fast moving water. During the rescue attempt the water pulled Barb's PFD and helmet off. After 40 minutes there was no chance of survival, so the group opted to stop their efforts and concentrated on getting off the river before dark.

Rescue teams returned the next day and set up a tyrolian traverse. They were able to hook a line to the kayak, but only succeeded in making the pin worse. Her boat and body were released only after the strainer was partly pulled from the river.

WRITER: Ken Bender via Steve Sherer; The Clark County Columbian


1) The group assembled quickly, developed a sound rescue strategy and made sure that no one else's life was endangered.

2)  Barb was notorious for her perseverance to stay in the boat and try to roll to avoid a swim.  This perseverance, and "bear hug" of the strainer may well have cost her life.  Two strong paddle strokes or a quick exit from the boat may have saved her.

3)  Swimming is often required to effect a rescue. A rescue life jacket or belt with a quick release is invaluable in these circumstances.

4)  Logs in rivers create unique hydraulics: water flows smoothly under, over and around them. Unlike rocks, there is no pillow. As one boater put it, once you get near this sort of hazard, it seems to suck you in.


1)  As a boater, you are ultimately responsible for your own safety. You must honestly assess your own skills and articulate them to your partners. You cannot rely on others to save you; there are predicaments that are simply not survivable.

2_ The pin apparently occurred because Barbara hesitated instead of paddling aggressively when she approached the log. The drop was within Barb's skill level and she had scouted it before her run.  Further, the scout revealed that a swim downstream would not be dangerous. She might have been able to save herself had she ejected from the boat immediately.