Thisis an detailed account of the death of Thomas Dallinger age 62 on 22 February 2006 by myself, Steve Haumschild, who witnessed the events. I have tried my best to be as descriptive as possible so some of the details may be too much for you. This is my interpretation of the events that occurred. The intention of this detail is simply to honor Tom, his friends and family with the truth from a friend on the scene. A sincere thanks goes out to all the rescuers that did an excellent job offering Tom his best chance, notably Devin Moody who acted flawlessly in the rescue and under the intense pressure. All river photos were taken the next day as the water had dropped significantly.
I found a wonderful creek called the Nuuanu River on the island of Oahu that would only run if there were unusual amounts of water in the watershed, which over my time in Hawaii, I had not seen. The creek section that we anticipated to run was about 2.5 miles and dropped about 250 feet per mile rather consistently. (For you paddlers, imagine a Manns Creek Junior version, with small boulders and smaller drops and less pushy). 2 days before the first descent, it began to rain and continued throughout the night and into the next day and night. We then got a flash flood almost statewide. Some areas of Hawaii received over 18 inches of rain in 24 hours. This was our opportunity, so on 2/21/06 myself and my roommate Devin scouted a ½ mile or so and enough to know it plenty of water to run. 24 hours later, myself, Devin and Tom were at the put in. We had a late start so we were prepared to hike out at any time as there were plenty of neighborhoods along the watershed that provided a reasonable takeout. We were stocked with throw ropes, pin kits, lights, etc. We decided at that time not to video as we wanted to maximize the amount of rapids and that we’d video the following day on the second descent.
We noticed at the put in that the water had dropped a small amount and the creek was not pushy, but instead a bit shallow in the pools. This turned out to be a low-water run of about 100-150 CFS or so. We put in and began to run the creek in standard fashion, scouting every drop by boat if possible, by shore if necessary, and of course if we felt that we had to portage we knew we would. The first 5-6 rapids were class 3-4 in nature and there was little debris in the creek. At the first horizon line, I got out to scout and explained the clean line to Devin and Tom who both ran the rapid clean. I then ran the drop and met up with the team in the pool below.
Immediately afterwards there was a 3-tiered drop with an eddy after the second drop that could be used to scout the final drop. The first drop was about a 4-5 foot boof followed almost immediately by another of the same nature, then to the eddy before the 3rd and final drop of the rapid which at that time we could not see the bottom of. The eddy was large enough for 3-4 boats and the tail of it leaked into the third drop. The 3rd drop began to gorge out a bit and was a bit steeper and more channelized then the others.
I ran first and boofed the first drop, then the second consecutively and caught the eddy before the 3rd. At the bottom of the second drop, just before the eddy was a medium sized tree on river left which was not a concern, as it was easily skirted. It was the final obstacle in the 2nd drop from there the water emptied into the eddy. I offered the ‘all clear’ signal to Devin and Tom who came down one at a time. Devin came first and made a clean line through everything and into the eddy. Tom then came down and also made a clean line passing the tree and entered the eddy. As he was passing the tree and moving into the eddy under control and upright, I began to go to the river right to scout the 3rd and final drop of the rapid and anything else that I could see downstream.
As I got to the bank, I looked over and Toms boat was upside-down floating to the entrance of the 3rd drop. It had been about 3 seconds or so since I had seen him enter the eddy. I yelled out ’Tom’ and Devin was already watching. Tom had time for at least 2-3 roll attempts or a wet exit, yet there was no movement from him attempting to roll or even set-up for a roll. He did not pull his skirt or make any indication that at that time he was conscious. He did not ‘brace for the storm’ or tuck up to ride out the next one. He then entered the 3rd drop upside down.
I hurried to the bank and to an area that I could watch and scout. I indicated that the line was clean to Devin, who was still in the eddy, and Devin ran the drop and caught up to Tom’s kayak, which was still capsized. This rapid was short, about 5-6 seconds and Devin entered the rapid while Tom was still in it. I attempted to scurry down the bank of the creek, but it was too steep. I got back to my kayak, loaded up and ran the drop to catch up to Devin with Tom just a moment later. By this time, Devin had Tom upright and against the river left bank.
Tom was unconscious when I arrived to the scene. Tom was gasping and wheezing inconsistently for air but was getting what seemed to be enough for an attempt to move him to the river right side for the easiest and most reasonable evacuation point. His condition was stable enough that this was our only opportunity to move him to the river right. There was an onlooker at his house up the bank, which we instructed to call 911 and did almost immediately. Within moments, we got him to the river right bank still gasping and wheezing for air. We pulled him out of his kayak and removed all his clothing on his upper torso. Tom had obvious wounds on the bridge of his nose and difficulty breathing. We initiated with monitoring his systems and trying to drain his lungs. Shortly thereafter his condition worsened and we began rescue breaths. After a few cycles we were looking good as he was still gasping for air as we rolled him on his side to clear his lungs. This continued for a few minutes and eventually we did not feel a pulse.
We began CPR just about the time we heard the EMS arrive. After a few cycles, the breaths were making a bubbling noise, as the water was building in his lungs. Rescue workers arrived at the rim of the gorge and were unable to immediately see us as we were in a grassy flat. I continued CPR while Devin flagged down the rescuers. Dealing with the terrain, they moved quickly and got down to us within a few minutes (6-8 minutes). They got out a breather bag and I continued CPR until instructed to only offer the thrusts. 6-8 rescuers made it down to Tom and took over. There were a number of other rescuers on the bank assessing the high angle rescue and initiating the plan. Tom was shocked with an AED and pushed Epinephrine (to re-start the heart) that we believe was followed with Atropine (to speed up the heart rate), but in the action Devin and I could not tell as we only heard the mention of the drug and did not actually see it injected. He was also Intubated (which they will not do it DOA).
At the time that the high angle rescue began, Tom’s heart was still beating. The Rescuers quickly got Tom up the bank and to the hospital while Devin and I were left to offer assistance and information to the rescuers, police, etc. When we got to the hospital, I was immediately notified that Tom died while in the hospital.
This story is missing a few parts to make it all clear and concise. As I turned to scout the 3rd drop and took my eyes off Tom as he was entering the eddy, something happened that he flipped. Devin happened to be watching and stated that it appeared that Tom my have been unconscious or intentionally flipped over. Although the official cause of death on the death certificate was drowning, my assessment is that it was complicated initially by another medical condition that domino-ed to drowning. Up to that rapid, Tom was running clean lines, and had no indication of any faltering. He cleaned the rapid and made it into the eddy. To this time there has been no autopsy information offered to confirm or reject any sort of additional medical concern.
Tom was an amazing man who beat to the tune of his own drummer. He followed his dream and left conventional jobs to follow his passion of the outdoors and the river and made a life out of it. He was an inspiration to me. He reinforced the fact that quality of life is significantly more important than quality of material items. Tom enjoyed a 20 plus year tenure of Professional River guiding throughout the most incredible rivers in the US including the Gauley River and Grand Canyon. Tom lived a low-key, low impact life. He died doing his life passion of being on the river.
As of today, there are ongoing investigations for homicide against Devin and I, as well as if we have broken any laws running the river. Unfortunately the news has an angle that this is not commonplace and that we are haphazard daredevils. Hawaii is unaware of the whitewater industry as a whole and is currently having difficulty swallowing that it could be anything else besides a stunt. The news is asking sea kayakers who have never run the river, to assess the danger level of our actions. I still have a bit of work before it is recognized here.