Doug Wellman, an expert kayaker who had recently won the Ocoee Whitewater Rodeo, almost drowned the following weekend after becoming entangled in an abandoned throw rope. The site was Middle Crack in the Rock Rapid of the Chattooga River, section IV, a popular class IV+ run along the border of Georgia and South Carolina, a drop he had run countless times at varying water levels.
Wellman, paddling a low-volume Jet kayak, became entangled in an abandoned throw rope at the base of the narrow drop. Desperately needing air, he bailed out. As he fought for his life, Friends chased his upside-down Jet. The rope kept him from getting to the surface, but he was able, by straining against a narrow underwater ledge, to get his head above the surface for a few precious breaths of air. His friends, discovering that Doug was not in his boat, rushed back to the base of the drop and cut him free.
SOURCE: David Broemel, TSRA Newsletter
ANALYSIS: A throw rope can be a life saver when properly used, but can be deadly when misused or abandoned. Only this paddler’s resourcefulness and the quick thinking of his knife-equipped friends prevented a tragedy.
Wellman’s first act after getting off the river was to purchase a river knife. I personally feel that every paddler should carry one, not because of abandoned throw ropes, but as a general defense against entanglement.
Loose ropes make deadly booby traps; none should ever be abandoned on a river. If they cannot be retrieved, they should be pulled out as far as possible and cut close to the place they snagged.