Accident Database

Report ID# 1111

  • Swim into Strainer
  • Hypothermia
  • Other

Accident Description


 My group was playing Funnel Rapid on the Class I Hiwassee on August 8, 1993. I ferried to river left and noticed something in a strainer about 150 yards downstream on river left. Then I noticed an empty yellow tube floating just past the tree. It didn’t look right, so I reluctantly left my play spot and floated downstream. As I got closer, I saw two people who were clearly in trouble.

I blew three long blasts on my whistle to attract attention as I paddled into an eddy just upstream of the trees. Remembering what I’d learned in the Georgia Canoe Association Rescue Clinic, I took a moment to assess the situation. A man was struggling to hold on to a branch with one hand and on to his companion with the other. He was struggling to keep her head above water and to keep  her from being pulled under the tree. Both wore life vests, but the water was cold and the current strong. They looked terrified.

I gave another long blast on my whistle, grabbed my rope, and climbed out onto the tree. I worked my way out carefully lest I join them. My first idea was to throw the  man the rope so he could secure his woman friend, but I instantly knew this couldn’t work because he would have to l et go of her to tie the knot. I inched my way out farther and was able to grab the woman with both arms and pull her up onto the log where she was safe. Getting her out of the water was more difficult. She was shaking uncontrollably and did not respond to my commands. She clung tightly to her plastic sun visor and refused to grab the tree. I waiting until she calmed down, and my friends arrived to  help her to shore. She continued to shiver for five to ten minutes despite bright sun and 85-degree temperatures. The pair later walked out along the railroad tracks.

The man told me that the woman was his wife, and they were celebrating their first wedding anniversary. She had gone under already and we could not have held on much longer. They could not go under the tree and they could not have climbed onto it without assistance. Several rafters and tubers floated by, waving, before we arrived. The tree itself still had green leaves and appears to have come down recently. It is in a very dangerous spot, and should be removed if possible.

Thanks to my friends for responding to my signal, to the member of my group who carried a space blanket despite the 85-degree temperature, and to the Georgia Canoe Association for teaching me to be attentive and observant at their rescue clinics. We paddle in groups and carry rescue gear so we can help each other when needed.

To the couple from Signal Mountain, Tennessee : Happy Anniversary! May I suggest as an anniversary gift two solo canoes and a lifetime membership in the Georgia Canoe Association.

SOURCE: Pat Hagan, GCA Newsletter

EDITOR’S NOTE: A fine piece of rescue work!

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