Accident Database

Report ID# 11

  • Health Problem
  • Asthma Attack
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • High Water

Accident Description

On July 4th, 1982 a group of paddlers from Philadelphia was running the Lower Youghiogheny River below Ohiopyle, PA. The water level that day was 4.5', making the major rapids big and powerful. Dimple Rapid becomes the longest and hardest rapid on the river at this level. The group ran the river the previous day and managed the three major rapids upstream without incident. At Dimple Rapid the tripleader, Bob Henk, flipped in an eddy to the right of Dimple Rock and bailed out after several roll attempts. Initially he seemed to have things under control, floating on his back while holding onto his boat and gear. Two member of the group gave chase and caught up with him near the base of Swimmer's Rapid, which at this level is continuous with Dimple. At this point he seemed weak and battered. He grabbed one of the rescuer's kayaks, but let go after his rescuer took a few strokes. He lost consciousness and began floating free.

The second boater, who had been chasing Bob's paddle, immediately turned around and tried to help with the rescue. The two men, both intermediate paddlers near the limits of their skill,  attempted to get Bob to shore but were hampered by their efforts to keep his head out of the water. The three washed through the next rapid, Bottle of Wine. They stayed close to Bob and helped him as much as they could. Finally one of the rescuers bailed out of his kayak, grabbled Bob by his life vest, and towed him to shore.  The pair began CPR, later to be relieved by a pair of river guides and two nurses who were on a commercial trip. CPR was continued as Bob was floated on a raft to Jonathan's Run and carried up the hill to a waiting ambulance. He died despite these efforts.

1) Bringing an unconscious swimmer ashore is almost impossible to do from your boat.  This accident shows that an IMMEDIATE SWIMMING RESCUE is necessary. Bail out of your boat, grab the person, and swim them ashore. This has not been documented before, and is the major lesson to be learned from this tragedy.

2) A long swim in Class IV whitewater can be extremely strenuous, even for a healthy person. But Bob Henk had asthma and a diminished lung capacity, and this almost certainly made this experience more demanding physically. People with this problem need to take it into account and exercise caution on cold days.

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