Accident Database

Report ID# 1017

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold Water
  • Other

Accident Description

On Saturday, August 8, 1987, four Wilmington Trail Club paddlers arrived at the wing dam at Lambertville rapids.  (This long class II+ drop is a popular “practice rapid” for Philadelphia area boaters. Water level was moderate.)

After about four hours . . . we decided to call it a day . . . I noticed a small group of tiny rafts ( the kind you use in a swimming pool) approaching the rapids. No one was wearing PFDs. The rafts dropped into the top hole and almost everyone was thrown out. I watched the people floating downstream and though I noticed a head disappear. Then I heard a woman screaming and realized that the person had disappeared near a rowboat which had drifted down and become pinned during the last week. I realized that someone was trapped underwater, upstream of the boat. I sent one person to go to the Pennsylvania side and call for help. My husband and I jumped in our boats to aid the rescue. Both of us are certified in CPR and I was fearful that we would have to use it.

By this time two kayakers had gotten out of their boats and managed to work their way on top of the rowboat. They had to get in the water upstream of the boat and reach down to located the submerged person. They began pulling, but could not locate the submerged body. Finally they decided that they could not worry about broken bones and pulled until they brought up the body…when we reached the boat the kayakers had resuscitated the boy, who was not breathing and quite blue when they brought him up. We set the boy on the deck of my husband’s boat and ferried him to a large flat rock.  He said his name was Drew, that he was eight years old, and that his stomach hurt. He had bruises there and all over his back. We covered him with shirts, and sprayskirts to keep him warm. We sent for an open canoe and ferried him to shore, sending the kayakers to made the rescue ahead to fill in the paramedics at the waiting ambulance about his condition. Another kayaker transported the mother to shore.

Source: Mary Koeppe

ANALYSIS: Quick thinking on the part of many people and close teamwork made the difference between life and death here. The river is popular with tubers, and there are numerous near-misses each year. It is quite probable that if the victim had been wearing a life jacket he would not have been swept under the rowboat.

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