Accident Database

Report ID# 1055

  • Swim into Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

 A group of 8 kayakers were paddling the Lower Cranberry on Sunday, April 23. About 2 PM, the group eddied out above Cranberry Split Rapids (class 3). This rapid is about 2 miles above the confluence with the Gauley River and the only access is via an old, overgrown logging road.

We talked about the rapid and how to run it. The plan was to run the first river wide ledge (about a 2 foot drop), paddle into the left eddy and get out on the island to scout the meat of the rapid. The first kayaker stayed in his kayak in the eddy by the island. One kayaker flipped at the bottom of the drop, missed his roll, and came out of his boat. A member of the group that was already on the island threw him a rope and was pulling him to shore when Sally ran the drop. She flipped and rolled, hesitated just a bit before starting to paddle, and was pulled back into the pour over hole. She side surfed for a few seconds, then flipped and exited her kayak.

She was facing upstream, holding her paddle in one hand and swimming with the other. When the water got rough, she let go of her paddle. She hit the middle of the pillowed rock and was pushed upward on the pillow. She then slid to the right along the face of the rock and into the crease on the right side of the rock. The paddler who was still in his kayak did not see her disappear so he ran the rapid to collect her and her gear in the pool below.

One paddler who was on the island tried throwing a rope into the crevice where she disappeared. Sally floated to the surface below the rock about 5-10 minutes later, face down. The rest of the group quickly scrambled into their boats and ran the sneak to get to the bottom quickly and help with the rescue. We got her to shore and three members of the group started CPR, working in rotation with one resting while the other two kept up compressions and breathing. After about 10 minutes and no response, two of our experienced paddlers paddled downstream 4 miles to the takeout as quickly as they could and called 911, struggled with trying to tell rescue personnel where Sally was and how to get to her. Another member of the group ran down the old logging road to the confluence of the Cranberry and Gauley and down the rails-to trails road to the confluence of the Cherry and Gauley. Then he swam across the Cherry and met the two people who had paddled out to call 911. The runner and one of the paddlers drove one of our takeout vehicles to the Holcomb Bridge. This was the point where there was a gated access to the rails-to-trails road.

Meanwhile, the Rescue Squad got the key to the gate of the rails-to-trails road at Holcomb Bridge. The two paddlers were then able to lead rescue personnel to the scene of the accident. The three people at the scene continued CPR until the Rescue Squad arrived and took over. By then it was shortly after 4 PM. They were surprised to see that we were so calm and focused on the task, and even more surprised that we had been doing effective CPR after almost 2 hours. The Paramedic pronounced her dead at the scene.

She was carried down the old railroad grade to an ambulance at the confluence with the Gauley. After retrieving our putin vehicles, two of us stopped at home (about 8 miles east of Summersville). We called Sally's husband to tell him what happened. We also got in touch with some good friends of his that lived nearby (Ravenswood, WV). They drove him to Summersville Memorial Hospital.

After taking care of the phone calls, two of us went to Summersville Memorial Hospital. We got there a bit after 9 pm. We talked with the County Medical Examiner while waiting for Sally's husband to arrive. The Medical Examiner told us that the official cause of death is being listed as a "witnessed drowning". He also told us that Sally had a bruise on her chin. He believes that Sally hit a rock with her chin and that caused her to become unconscious. He thinks that she was then thrown around in an undercut cavity or a slot between the rocks. She was missing her left shoe and had bruises and abrasions on her left leg. The boaters have speculated that she may have had a foot entrapment after sliding off the pillowed rock. She had a basal skull fracture and her C1, C2 and C3 vertebrae were damaged. There was separation between her C1 and her skull. She suffered no pain. She had passed before she came out from under the water. She could not have caught a rope and no amount of CPR could have done any good.

The Rescue personnel, Paramedic and Medical Examiner all told us how we all went far beyond the call of duty in trying to save her life. Sally's husband and his friends arrived at the hospital around 11:30. Her husband was able to see Sally and say good-by.

Sally Naas was a 62 year old school teacher in Jackson County, WV. She was an intermediate paddler. She had taken several paddling and rescue clinics, two of them in 2005. She was conservative in her paddling and she had all the necessary skills and knowledge. She also had run the Lower Cranberry several times with us and others. Sally hit the center of the rock and rode the pillow up, she then was pushed to the right along the face of the rock. Her head was above water this whole time. As she hit the point where the current rounded the rock, she went under. As we all know, there is kind of a suck hole when water pours around a rock. We'll never know for sure, but I believe she became entrapped, otherwise she would have been flushed around the rock.

There is no doubt that one should swim aggressively away from a pillowed rock. The danger lies close in to the rock as the water pours around it, if not undercut at the front. As best I can recall, I saw her holding on to her paddle as she floated down into the main current towards the rock. She seemed to be OK and was trying to swim to the right. Her paddle made have prevented a strong swimming effort. The current was very strong and carried her past the point she was trying to swim to. I don't recall seeing her paddle as she washed up on the pillow. She may have let go of it by then. She did not hit the rock hard but gently wshed up on it and then slid off to the right. She disappeared from view and I assumed she had been carried around the rock and over the ledge.

I was for the moment, relieved that she had been carried to the right since I knew there were pinning rocks in the left channel. After some time I did not see her and began to get worried. I was hoping the she was just hidden behind the rock in the eddy. I watched her the whole way down. What a helpless feeling. Bob was watching also. I seem to remember her facing upriver and hitting the rock with her back, but I wouldn't swear to it at this point. This much I am sure of. She hit the rock dead center and was pushed upward on the pillow. She then slid to the right along the face of the rock. When she hit the point where the water poured around the rock, she went under. Bob and I spoke to each other that "This is not good."

Jim had thrown his rope to Charlie who was out of his boat before Sally came over the ledge. He hollered for another rope to throw for Sally, but no one had one handy. Jim gathered his rope and made for the rock where Sally disappeared, but she was already gone. I noticed that she was missing a shoe and wondered if there might have been a foot entrapment.

Please keep me informed of any services for Sally. She will be missed. I just seem to remember her facing upstream, but as I said, I wouldn't swear to it. I don't know if she had her feet up or not. I just remember her bright yellow helmet. She tried to keep her paddle until the water got rough and she let go. She was not swimming aggressively hand over hand to the right. If anything, it was more of a side stroke. More aggressive swimming would probably have made a difference. A note on the AW site should advise aggressive swimming to the right if out of the boat. I believe that Sally was just too close to the rock where the water creates a hole as it rounds the right side. Feel free to make any more inquiries.

Jackson teacher drowns while kayaking Michelle James Register-Herald Reporter A 62-year-old Jackson County school teacher drowned Sunday afternoon while kayaking on the Cranberry River near Richwood in Nicholas County. Cpl. Wayne Young with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources said Sarah Sally Naas of Ravenswood was floating alongside her boat when she hit an undercut or pillowed rock and was pulled under, where she was trapped for about 10 minutes. At the time of the accident, Young said,

Naas, an experienced kayaker, was participating in an outing with a kayaking club to which she belonged. Young said other club members pulled Naas out from under the rock and performed CPR but were unable to revive her.

The Cranberry River, which feeds into the Gauley, is in a remote area and, because of the location of the accident, Young said it was an hour and a half before emergency crews were able to get to the scene and transport Naas to Summersville Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Young said the Cranberry River is a popular kayaking spot during the spring, especially after significant rainfall. Naas' death is the first kayaking death on the Cranberry, which is well known for trout fishing, in more than 15 years, according to Young.

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