Accident Database

Report ID# 1129

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

On June 16 Tom Poirier, 57,  and his 12-year old son, Jim, were paddling with Scout Troop 327 on North Elkhorn Creek in central Kentucky. The group stopped beside a dam for lunch, then they portaged their canoes around it. After getting back in, the Poiriers’s canoe was sucked into the dam backwash from downstream! Their canoe overturned, and father and son struggled to get out from under it. Tom finally burst to the surface, but when he didn’t see his son, he went under again even though the canoe had begun to spin wildly. He grabbed his son’s shirt and pulled him to the surface, but they were still in gave danger. Tom Hagman, another father in the group, saw the trouble and dove into the stream. But he, too, was sucked into the hydraulic and thrashed to within an inch of his life.

The younger Poirier was washed free and floated downstream. His father, meanwhile, passed out and was pulled underwater. Hagman and Jim Poirier managed to get to the bank of the river. While Hagman lay gasping for air, Jim saw his unconscious father being carried downstream toward him, floating helplessly. Jim reached out, grabbed his father, dragged him to shore, and began CPR which he’d learned the previous summer for his first aid merit badge. Two adults finally made it across the steep, muddy bank and took over the CPR.

Meanwhile, an older Scout went to find help. He found a farmer, who rushed home and dialed 911. As tom Poirier came to, 20 volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians rushed to the scene. Mr. Poirier was evacuated to a local hospital for treatment where he received antibiotics intended to cure a lung infection he got from inhaling dirty creek water. He hopes his experience will lead state or ScottCounty officials to post signs near the dam warning canoeists of the dangerous backwash.


SOURCE: LouisvilleCourier-Journal


ANALYSIS: (Walbridge) This dam-related near-drowning in central Kentucky points out the dangers of getting to close to a hydraulic on the downstream side. The hardest thing for a rescuer to do when making dam rescues is to  stay clear of the hydraulic; in this instance the rescuers did not. Their survival is attributed to the use of PFDs.

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