NEAR FATAL FOOT ENTRAPMENT ON THE DEERFIELD RIVER
DESCRIPTION: The Deerfield River below Zoar Gap contains several miles of Class I-II rapids broken by stretches of flat water. On July 24, 1998 a group of young teens assembled along the bank for a river swimming drill. This was part of a youth adventure camp run by Greenfield Community College. The program included hiking, climbing, and canoeing, and was supervised by two well-trained leaders. The water level that day was around 850 cfs, a standard release. After the group arrived at the river, the swim exercise was outlined. The boys were to float a Class I rapid, then swim for shore. One instructor was stationed downstream with several boys who were holding throw bags. The other had left to take one student to meet his mother a short distance away.
The first few boys entered the river. One of them, Adam Dzialo, 12, waved to his friends downstream, then entered the water. He apparently attempted to stand part way down, and his leg jammed into a small space between two rocks. He was instantly pulled under water. The instructor and several students immediately tried to swim out and pull him to safety, but they were washed downstream. Several others ran to nearby residences and called 911.
The accident occurred right in front of a Crab Apple Whitewater raft trip lead by Frank Mooney. Several boats passed over the spot where Adam was trapped. One of his guides saw the entire thing, and tried to grab Adam as they floated past. His guides rushed to shore and mobilized for rescue. A group wading rescue was tried, without success. Several throw bags were spliced together, and a line was stretched across the river, and several guides waded out using the line for support. They made contact, but could not pull him out. Next, they set up a tethered raft rescue. The raft was lowered into position above the spot where Adam was pinned. Dozens of volunteer firefighters, local residents, and personnel from Zoar Outdoors arrived, and they were put to work belaying the line. It took all the strength of two men to pull Adam free. The elapsed time between the entrapment and the rescue was 20-30 minutes.
Because this spot in the river is very accessible, Adam Dzalo was immediately put in the hands of EMS. They administered CPR and evacuated him to Bay State Medical Center by helicopter, He survived, but with very serious brain damage. Dzialo's father has made investigating the accident a major focus of his life, and this in turn has generated considerable interest in the regional press.
SOURCE: Crab Apple Whitewater; Greenfield Community College; Kevin McMillan; Ben Bramledge
ANALYSIS: (Walbridge) Although the youngsters were briefed on the danger of foot entrapment and the proper way to float a rapid before entering the water, interviews afterward suggest that many did not fully understand the dangers. Young teens are notoriously difficult to manage, and a leader must have the groups full attention before beginning any safety talk. I like to put the fear of God into these groups and make them fully understand that they can die by attempting to stand up in fast-moving water.
Youth groups must be carefully supervised during river activities. The full complement of staff should be on hand. If a staff member must leave for a short period, the group can take a break or engage in land drills that can be more easily supervised. In this case, throw line practice would have worked well.