BYSTANDERS RESCUE PINNED KAYAKER ON THE NORTH PAYETTE
I witnessed a near miss on the North Fork of the Payette River on September 17, 1995. It occurred at Nutcracker, a Class V drop at Mile marker 93 on Route 55 north of Banks, Idaho . We were heading to the Class III Cabarton Run upstream when we stopped to watch three kayakers run the drop.
Two of the boaters had clean runs. The third pitoned a rock on the river right shore. As the boat spun off, its nose caught a rock just downstream of the impact and folded over it. The kayak could not pivot free because it was pinched between the pinning rock and the shore rock. The deck collapsed, trapping the paddler’s legs.
The first person to arrive was the lead boater’s wife. She grabbed the victim’s outstretched paddle and held on, keeping his head above water. Our group of eight, including five beginning kayakers and three experienced boaters, ran down the shore to help. The first person to arrive grabbed the victim’s free hand, pulling his chest out of the water. The others stabilized the people supporting the victim, as they were perched precariously on rocks.
First we tried to lift the bow up and out, but this proved impossible even with mechanical advantage. Next, we tried pulling on the broach loop, but we couldn’t budge the boat this way and were concerned that we might flip it.
We then got a saw from the car and attempted to cut off the bow, but we had to give up when the blade started binding. After we redistributed people to further stabilize the victim, I tried another cut farther down the boat. Again the saw started binding. Thinking that the saw was binding in the pillar, I started cutting wedges out of the kayak to get access. Cutting the pillar released the boat from the upper rock, but it was still wedged against the one downstream. It was easy enough to free the boat from this rock. A throw rope still was attached to the grab loop when the boat came free. We three it downstream because we weren’t sure we could hang on to it.
Looking back, we should have cut the rope off before releasing the boat. We would have preferred to hold on to the kayak, but felt we could not do it. We were probably a bit too focused on releasing the pin to think about what was going to happen next. The victim attempted a roll, missed, then bailed out and swam for shore. Other members of the party helped the kayaker ashore. He was quite sore, but physically OK.
SOURCE: Sea Bass Sears, Ketchum, ID , via e-mail
EDITOR’S NOTE: If I get into trouble on a roadside river I hope that a carload of rescue-trained paddlers will be passing by!