NEAR-DROWNING ON LOYALSOCK CREEK
On Friday, April 9, 1993, the Loyalsock Creek, a Class III central Pennsylvania stream, was running about 4” above the minimum level (3’6”) required for the Route 220 to WorldsEndState Park trip. A group of nine paddlers set off on this run. The run was bumpy but uneventful until we arrived at Haystacks, a Class IV boulder/ledge drop about three miles into the trip.
The group was directed to river left to scout the drop. There are two routes through the drop at this level: a technically difficult run down river right, followed by a sharp left through a tight chute; or a straight run down river left over a two- to three-foot ledge into a pool below. Both routes lead into the same pool There are a couple of small hydraulics below the pool but nothing of particular significance beyond that point.
Three advanced paddlers elected to run the drop without scouting. A canoe and kayak ran the chute without difficulty and a C-1 ran the ledge approaching from river right (angled left), also successfully.
Two other kayakers elected to run the drop after scouting; the first decided on the river right route. Appropriate safety was set up. As the first paddler neared the chute, the second one entered the drop and ran the river left route. The first kayaker went over, missed his roll, and caught a rescue rope as he was drifting out of the pool. Shortly after that he released the rope and floated downstream. The rope thrower pursued him on foot.
The second kayaker successfully ran the ledge. While his had a steep, and potentially sticky hydraulic there was very little backwash. The ledge itself was about six to seven feet wide. Once the boater was three feet beyond the lip of the hydraulic, the safety kayak departed to help the initial swimmer.
At this point the second kayaker got caught in the turbulence from the chute, which entered the pool with an upstream angle. She flipped, missed a roll, bailed out, and was slowly swept upstream into the hydraulic. She appeared confused and did not attempt self-rescue. Once in the hydraulic she appeared to be standing up, and not in immediate danger. The hydraulic seemed fairly innocuous because of its size and limited backwash. A rope was thrown from shore but was unable to reach it. Her efforts at self-rescue in the hole and her weakening condition were not obvious to those on shore. Exhausted and desperate to get out of the hole she collapsed into a ball and suddenly flushed out facedown floating downstream.
The two downstream members of the group were unaware of her situation. Though they had retrieved her boat, they believed she’d cleared the danger point much earlier. Shouts from upstream, and the sight of the victim floating facedown, brought them back to life. They immediately pulled her ashore and started rescue breathing (as she was unconscious, and blue, though her heart was beating) until she regained consciousness. She did not aspirate a significant amount of water, and other than the trauma associated with a close call she has fully recovered.
SOURCE: Bob Broadbent, Philadelphia Canoe Club
EDITOR’S NOTE: I believe this close call was a result of the unusual nature of the pool’s current and not immediately recognizing the danger of a surprisingly sticky hydraulic. Other factors include the lack of good spacing between paddlers, the lack of immediate and aggressive rescue work (again related to the unrecognized danger), limited self-rescue before entering the hydraulic, and the bad luck of dumping at that particular point in the pool.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but I believe the bottom line for all of us is to initiate aggressive rescue even if the danger seems minima. This should always start with self-rescue (if possible), throw ropes, boat rescue, and even swimming rescue if it does not put the rescuers in danger. The full resources of the group should always be utilized when possible.