Accident Database

Report ID# 1064

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water

Accident Description

Non-Witness Narrative by Chip Morgan on 2006-05-15 (okay to publish): I saw this in the 5/15/06 "Burlington Free Press":

St. Michael's student feared drowned in Winooski River near Duxbury

Published: Monday, May 15, 2006

By Matt Sutkoski Free Press Staff Writer

DUXBURY -- A St. Michael's College senior five days shy of graduation is missing and presumed drowned after a Sunday afternoon canoe accident on the rain-swollen Winooski River. Augustine Carbunari, 20, of Watertown, Mass., was in the canoe with a friend when it flipped in rough water at about 4:15 p.m., less than two miles downstream from a dam where they had put into the river, Vermont State Police Lt. Al Buck said. The companion, also a graduating St. Michael's senior, was able to swim to the riverbank. A third St. Michael's student in a kayak tried to rescue Carbunari, but the current drove him away.

Police did not have the identity of the two surviving paddlers, who were not injured. The Winooski River water temperature was about 50 degrees and was running turbid and relatively high because of heavy weekend rains. Buck said Carbunari and his fellow canoeist were not wearing life jackets, but the man in the kayak was.

Word of the accident spread quickly among the St. Michael's community. Many members of the senior class boarded a ferry Sunday night for a Lake Champlain cruise to celebrate graduation, senior Morgen Thiboult said. She said many people got off the boat before it sailed, too upset by the news to participate in the party on the lake. The cruise was subsequently called off. Carbunari's friends and classmates filled the St. Michael's chapel to capacity later Sunday night for a service and Catholic Mass. Students greeted each with tearful hugs and stood up to sing "Amazing Grace."

Carbunari was a bass player and vocalist in a band called Domestic Blend, which performed at Alliot Hall at St. Michael's on Saturday evening as part of Senior Week festivities. The band also played at Higher Ground in South Burlington in April.

The canoe accident occurred in a spot in the Winooski River where water bumps and rolls over some rocks and outcroppings. Carbunari was last seen struggling in a current between a mostly submerged rock and a small island about 100 yards downstream, Buck said. The river where Carbunari disappeared is nearly 20 feet deep, Buck said. "It's no longer a rescue mission, it's a recovery mission," Buck said three hours into the search. As he talked, rescuers in inflatable boats probed the water with long poles, hoping to find signs of Carbunari. Colchester Technical Rescue personnel, in dry suits and astride devices that looked like wake boards, searched near the banks of the river where currents undercut the banks. Branches and trash occasionally swept by, picked up by the slowly rising water level in the river.

Further downstream, fire and rescue personnel from Bolton, Richmond and Stowe stood watch along the river. "We wouldn't all be here if the victim was wearing a life jacket," Buck said. As darkness and rain closed in around 8 p.m., police and rescue personnel got out of the water and gave up on the search for the night. The State Police Scuba Team and Colchester and Stowe rescue teams will resume the search this morning, Buck said.

Contact Matt Sutkoski at 660-1846 or msutkosk@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.comFloods

Canoeist drowns after capsizing on Winooski River

May 16, 2006

State police personnel wrap up at the scene Monday afternoon after recovering a body from the Winooski River from Sunday's fatal drowning in which a canoeist succumbed to the rain-swollen river after capsizing near the railroad bridge seen in the background.
Photo: Stefan Hard/Times Argus

DUXBURY – Less than a week before he was set to graduate, the body of a St. Michael's College senior was recovered from the Winooski River in Duxbury after his canoe capsized in a spring adventure turned horribly wrong.

A little after noon Monday, the Vermont State Police Scuba Team recovered the body of 21-year-old Augustine Carbunari of Watertown, Mass. His body was found below Bolton Falls, where he disappeared Sunday afternoon when the canoe he and classmate Scott Wilson of Essex, Conn., were paddling overturned.

Wilson managed to swim to shore. Neither of the men apparently had life jackets and it was unclear whether they had any canoeing experience on a day when the Winooski was challenging because of high waters.

A memorial service was held Monday afternoon for Carbunari at St. Michael's College, where he was a political science major, rugby club member and bass guitar player. He was set to graduate Thursday.

Carbunari's name will be read at the commencement ceremony, said Buff Lindau, speaking for the college. "We're trying to take guidance from his parents," she said. "They were going to come up in four days to celebrate his graduation."

Carbunari's body was found in 23 feet of water near the place he was last seen about 4:20 p.m. Sunday. The water was cold – 52 degrees – with nearly no visibility, according to a state police report.

Doug Veliko of Stowe Mountain Rescue said the two friends ran into rapids under a railroad bridge and their canoe capsized. Stowe Mountain Rescue, Colchester Technical Rescue and the Vermont State Police helped recover Carbunari's body Monday.

"They traveled down the river 200 yards," Veliko said of the two friends. Wilson was able to get into an eddy and make it to shore, but Carbunari disappeared. "The river is Class I water, Class II at most," Veliko observed, which is mild rapids, but "where he drowned the water was moving pretty fast. There was a good volume of water moving through there."

The river was 100 yards wide at that point, he said, noting, "We strung a highline across it and had about 350 feet of rope out."

He suggested that hypothermia might have played a role in Carbunari's death. The water was cold and Carbunari wasn't wearing a wetsuit. "He had blue jeans on and sneakers. Those weigh you down in the water and don't do much to keep you warm," Veliko said.

"The first thing to be impaired is gross motor functions," Veliko noted. That could have affected Carbunari's ability to move his arms and legs.

Another classmate, Andrew Chiaraluce, had paddled under the bridge in a kayak before his friends did. But canoes are tippier in white water than kayaks, said Gary Dillon, chief of the Waterbury Fire Department, which with the Waterbury ambulance was one of the first responders. The Vermont State Police, Richmond Fire and Rescue, Colchester Technical Rescue and Stowe Mountain Rescue also responded.

"Last night when we got there, we were still in a rescue operation," Veliko said. The Stowe Mountain team checked the spots where finding a body was most probable.

"We checked strainers and any upstream Vs, obstructions like a rock where people can get stuck, places where the river shallows down to a sandbar," Veliko said. "Someone may break free but be unconscious."

When it got dark, they suspended the search and resumed it at first light Monday.

"This morning we went back as recovery," Veliko said. "We repeated some of the shorework in case he had resurfaced. Then we got the boats out and did sweeps, and then the state police dive team got here. They wanted to put a diver in and work near the side of the shore while we were rigging a high line across the river so we could put a diver in the center of the river."

Soon after, the state police diver located the body.

"It's very sad for his family and his friends," Veliko said. "It's a terrible waste of a young life."

Umiak Outdoor Outfitters in Stowe, a well-known paddling center, was advising people to stay off the rain-swollen river Sunday. "We weren't renting any boats that day because of the high water," said Steven Brownlee, Umiak's owner. "Fatalities that occur in this sport usually happen early in the season."

Umiak runs a shuttle on the Winooski River upstream of Bolton Dam. People kayak and canoe below Bolton Dam regularly, but some have flipped their boats there, Brownlee observed, adding, "That's one section where an inexperienced boater can have trouble, particularly if there's high water."

Sunday, he said, the rivers were at a very high level. Umiak's gauge upstream of the Bolton Dam was running at 4,000 cubic feet per second. Umiak stops renting canoes when it runs at 2,000 cubic feet per second. "We encourage anybody to call us," he said. "We're happy to tell them what the water level is."

Brownlee advised every paddler to learn the "120 degree rule" – if the temperature of the water and the air added together totals less than 120 degrees, paddlers should wear a wetsuit to prevent hypothermia. And Brownlee strongly urged all paddlers to wear life vests regardless of the temperature. Neither of the two men were wearing personal flotation devices, and none were in their boats, according to police reports. If Carbunari had been wearing one, he would have floated high on the surface of the water and been visible, Brownlee said.

Dillon, the Waterbury fire chief, said, "I don't think they were all that experienced. Anybody with experience wouldn't have been in there in a river that was flooded."

The lesson he draws from Carbunari's death is, "Don't go in the water without a life preserver. Had he done one simple thing, and that is put on a life preserver, he'd probably be alive today."

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