Accident Database

Report ID# 1117

  • Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
  • Hypothermia
  • Other

Accident Description

A BAD BROACH AT RIGHT CRACK - October 24, 1994

            On October 24, 1994, Steve Yook, a Chattooga guide on his day off, was kayaking Section IV of the Chattooga with Joy Slagle and Bill Garrison. The sky was clear, the river level was 1.9’, and the temperature was 70 degrees. The group passed a Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) guided raft trip while we ate lunch at Long Creek Falls ; we reached the Five Falls sometime later. 

            Greg Batt, our safety boater, was running Entrance Rapid when he saw Steve and Bill waving for help on the rocks to the right of Right Crack. Greg exited his boat in the right eddy below Entrance and ran down the shore, rope in hand, to Crack-in-the-Rock. At the same time, Christopher Smith, our photo boater, paddled through Corkscrew to reach Steve and Bill. Rob Edwards, who was going to set rope on the left below Entrance, ran down the left shore to Crack. When Andrew Punsel, the trip leader, and Taz (Kevin Riggs) saw what was happening, Taz ferried his raft to the left shore and ran down to assist. Another guide, Zack Moldenhauer, followed Taz with a first aid kit. 

            Arriving on the scene at 1:45 PM, we learned that thirty minutes earlier Joy, paddling a Dancer ProLine, broached on the log in Right Crack. The kayak hit the log at her right thigh as she attempted to run to the left. It stuck there and creased at her knees as the current pushed the bow underwater and down the drop. Not only was the center of Joy’s boat pinned on the log, but the bow was also up against the rocks just under the water on the left side of Right Crack. In addition to the crease, the boat’s deck was compressed around Joy’s knees, thighs, and hips. Her head was in the air but the rest of her body was submerged in the 56 degree water. 

            Steve and Bill attempted to pull Joy from the boat, but she complained that it hurt her legs so they stopped. Next, they lifted up on the stern of her boat so it would slide down to the left of the log. Unfortunately, the plastic behind her seat creased so that even with her stern pointing straight up in the air, the rest of her boat did not move. Finally they attached a throw bag around her boat at the seat and pulled directly from the rock upstream of Right Crack. The boat still did not budge. Bill spent most of the first forty-five minutes that Joy was pinned standing on the ledge to the right of her boat, comforting her and assisting in tying or untying ropes to the boat. 

            When NOC arrived, Christopher and Greg went to help Steve pull on the rope, but the boat did not move. Greg relieved Bill on the ledge and stood in thigh-deep water until Joy was free. Meanwhile Bill and Zack passed a rope around Joy’s torso on the outside of her PFD to keep her head above water. This rope was held from the rock above Right Crack and could be released at any time if the boat came free of the log. During all this, Tax and Rob held throw ropes downstream, on the left shore, in case someone fell into the current below Crack. 

            The remaining guides on the trip, Andrew Punsel, Cathy Holcombe, and I (Hugh Kelly) were waiting with the rafting guests in the middle eddy above Entrance. I walked down the left shore to find out what was happening below. When I returned, Andrew, Cathy, myself and two Army men from Fort Bragg ran a raft through Entrance and Corkscrew. We paddled over to Steve, who was on the right shore above Crack. It should be noted that we normally would not leave a raft trip unattended, but because of the urgency of the situation we wanted to use all available manpower.

            At that point Steve was directing the rescue and we were supplying him with equipment and bodies. When our raft arrived Steve asked us to ferry him over to High Rock where, with the help of Taz, Zack , and Andrew, he set up a Z-drag off of a piton. The Z-drag was attached around Joy’s boat at the seat between the two creases. It was difficult to make this Z-drag work effectively because there was very little distance between the changes in direction and no room to stand on High Rock. Joy said pulling on the boat from that direction hurt her legs so we stopped, but did not dismantle the Z-drag. 

            By 2:30 Steve was exhausted and asked Taz to take over. Taz and Zack used the Z-drag from High Rock as a zip line, going in the raft from the left shore to the rock in  between Right and Middle Cracks. Christopher volunteered to paddle out for help. After checking with Andrew, Christopher left and, with the help of Bill Coburn and the Wildwater motorboat, reached a phone by 3:05. He called the NOC outpost and Oconee Memorial Hospital , asking for an ambulance to wait at the takeout on Lake Tugaloo . Also at 2:30, three other kayakers showed up and volunteered to assist in the rescue: Chris Connelly, Lee Riley and Will (last name unknown). 

            Form the middle rock, Zack and Taz passed a rope through the bow grab loop and tried pulling the boat to the left, but  Joy complained of pain so they stopped. Joy, who had now been in the water for an hour and a half, became withdrawn at this point and appeared to be losing confidence. From the left shore, Cathy sent Taz another rope. It was tied around the boat at the seat, at the same placae that the Z-drag from High Rock was attached. Taz sent this rope to the left shore where it was pulled directly and later with a Z-drag. 

            At 3:00 we had two ropes attached to Joy’s kayak and a heads-up line around her PFD. Her boat still had not budged. It was time to try something else so Taz popped Joy’s skirt H hoped it would cause the boat to move or the hull to expand, allowing her to remove her legs. Initially this did not seem to improve the situation. Next we tried to cut the boat, but our Spyderco knife did not work because the blade was too thick. (Editor’s note: a saw would have worked.) Looking back, to free Joy from the boat using a knife, we probably would have had to risk cutting her legs. It was now 3:20 and even though she was dressed in fleece and a drytop, Joy was beginning to lose her color. 

            The turning point came at 3:25 when Joy rebounded and told Greg and Taz that she could move her right leg. After the remains of her sprayskirt were cut away, Taz was able to reach in to the bow, grab her heel, and pull her right leg from the boat. Joy’s left leg was still tapped inside, so Taz retied one of the ropes to the bow security loop to counteract the water pressure on the deck. When the folks on the left shore pulled on this rope, the deck lifted and Greg and Rob were able to pull Joy from the boat and onto the dry rock. 

            After a primary and secondary survey, we concluded that her legs had suffered only bruises and that the only life-threatening condition was hypothermia. We exchanged Joy’s clothes for relatively dry ones, gave her food, wrapped her in a blanket, and had other people lie  next to her. Using the local kayakers to set throw lines, we brought our trip through the Five Falls . Then, with Joy on a backboard, we carried around Jawbone, Sock-em Dog and Shoulderbone and rafted her to the lake. We met Bill in the motorboat carrying two more NOC guides and John Thomas, a paramedic and former Chattooga guidefrom Oconee Memorial Hospital . At the hospital Joy was diagnosed with leg bruises and hypothermia and was released that same night.

SOURCE: Hugh Kelly, Nantahala Outdoor Center

AUTHOR’S NOTE: All of the private kayakers that assisted in the rescue were employees of Southeastern, Wildwater, and Chattooga Adventures Unlimited. Without their help the rescue would have been much more difficult. I’m convinced that Crack-in-the-Rock changed after this summer’s flood. Some say that debris stuck in the bottom of Middle Crack washed out, lowering the level of the upstream pool. Now the water washed through, as opposed to over, Right Ccrack. The log has become a more formidable obstacle as well; it used to be underwater at two feet, but now you can hang up on the log as high as 2.2’. After the incident Joy said, “If you have doubts, walk it.”

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