Accident Database

Report ID# 1008

  • Other
  • Near Drowning
  • Other
  • High Water

Accident Description

During the afternoon of Saturday, April 30, 1983, a rapid and unexpected rise in the river level produced swift currents, treacherous eddies and other hazardous conditions for inexperienced floaters. Park Technician Richard Brown initiated a canoe patrol for the purpose of warning floaters about these conditions. While on this patrol, Mr. Brown observed two occupants thrown out of a canoe. The canoe and occupants were being swept toward another capsized canoe. In attempting to help his female companion, the male occupant became pinned between the two canoes. The tremendous force of high water pressed the canoe against both of his legs causing excruciating pain.

After pulling the female occupant to safety and disregarding his own safety, Mr. Brown single-handedly prevented the upstream canoe from crushing the man or forcing his head and torso backward and under water. Mr. Brown removed his own life jacket and put it on the man keeping the man’s head above water during periods when he lost consciousness. Only with the aid of eight volunteers and a 15-minute struggle, was Mr. Brown able to free the man from the canoe. As the canoe was released, Mr. Brown and a volunteer were swept away in the swift current. Mr. Brown grabbed the volunteer and caught hold of a willow branch until both could regain their balance and be helped to safety. Despite being wet and cold, Mr. Brown organized the directed the evacuation of the victim two miles overland by Stokes litter.

Mr. Brown’s conduct was exemplary throughoutt this rescue; however, had it not been for his initial action which can only be described as a selfless act of courage, it is probable that BuffaloNationalRiver would have recorded its first canoeing fatality. For his courage and complete disregard for his own safety, Richard E. Brown is granted the Valor Award of the Department of the Interior.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!