Accident Database

Report ID# 1138

  • Swim into Rock or Sieve
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description



            “On July 19, 1997, Michael Stein and I paddled the Lower Yough in  Western Pennsylvania . As we approached River’s End rapids, two people on river left frantically gestured for us to hurry. We eddied out behind Whale Rock, and saw a girl wedged between Snaggletooth Rock and the adjacent boulder. She was pinned facing downstream, wedged at the hips. The current was pushing at her back and she was struggling to keep her head above water. Her boyfriend stood in the downstream eddy but was not close enough to help. Later we learned that her name was Lisa; she, her boyfriend and another couple were inexperienced rental rafters.

            “The best spot for rescue was on the rocks to Lisa’s right. I headed into an eddy below Lisa and exited my kayak. I removed my throw bag an and started up the boulders. After leaping onto the second boulder’s steep surface, I slipped, dropping the throw bag into the water. Michael retrieved the bag and tossed it back to me. I found a better route to climb the second boulder, then jumped to the next one. My final destination was the boulder nearer Lisa, but it was too far to jump and too steep to climb to it. The boulder I was on, however, was close enough to get a rope to her. My throw was good: the rope landed upstream of Snaggletooth and drifted down to Lisa. I belayed the rope and sat down to wait.

            “Michael was in the eddy encouraging Lisa to hold on, assuring her that help was coming. She’d been pinned for several minutes. She was exhausted from using her arms to push her head and shoulders above water. She was crying and telling Michael that she couldn’t hold on much longer. When the rope arrived, he shouted directions in such a positive manner that she abandoned her fear of letting go of the rocks to grab hold of the rope with one hand. More commands by Michael and she put two hands on the rope. More command and she pulled.

            “Sitting high on the boulder, I couldn’t see Lisa or Michael. It seemed like an eternity before I felt pressure on the rope. Then a strong pull came, lasting three or four minutes, then weakening. The rope went slack, but there wre no reports of success, and I worried that Lisa might have been too weak to free herself. A couple of minutes later some weak pressure came back, then slack, then a rather strong pull, and again, slack. I heard someone yell that Lisa was free. Michael told me that when Lisa finally got loose, she let go of the rope and passed over the drop. She disappeared under the water for several seconds, then she reached up from the depths to grab his bow.

            “When I came down off the rocks, I saw Lisa in her friend’s arms. Both were very cold and weak. A guided raft group was descending, and we tried to get someone to help them off the river. A ‘ducky’ finally approached and got Lisa to shore. We took her to the sunny side of the river to shake off the cold. Her legs were badly bruised from knees to hips. But once she warmed up she assured us that she could continue to paddle to the take-out. Since the rafters were all inexperienced and badly shaken, Michael and I guided them the rest of the way. As we parted at Bruner Run, Lisa thanked me. I admonished her group that if they returned, they need to go with a guided trip.


SOURCE: Bill Robertson, Three Rivers Paddling Club Paddler’s Gauge






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