Accident Database

Report ID# 114518

  • Swim into Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Failed Rescue

Accident Description

The Fourth Canyon of the Rio Santa Maria in Mexico is a serious Class IV/V section best attempted by advanced paddlers with the stamina for a very long day on the water.  The river is filled with undercuts and sieves, making it an extremely dangerous place to swim. There are several big rapids on the Santa Maria that even experts choose to portage.  

Report from Ben Kvanli of the Olympic Outdoor Center:

Dan Braly, 58, from Lakehills, TX died two days ago in the 4th Canyon of the Santa Maria river on the border of the Mexican states of San Luis Potosi and Queretaro. Dan was a great man. I spent the last few minutes of his life talking about how good it was, and then in the next rapid he died despite getting two throw ropes to him in seconds, and then lifting him with our hands.


The situation started as the crew of 9 experienced paddlers were ready to take out and portage a difficult rapid. Dan stopped above to check out where everyone was portaging the rapid, and then said that he would just follow me. He hit a rock in the way into the eddy, but recovered quickly and made it into the eddy on river left.  Dan then looked at the rock sieve downstream, and he drifted back into the current. He never stopped looking at it. 

The local paddlers with us were already standing on the big rock in the center of the river and I was right beside Dan in my boat, but he never looked at me.  As he went down I called for him to eddy right, but by then I was behind him and he never looked right, so I figured that he could not hear me since he is partially deaf. As he was floating downstream, some of the crew members ran over and instructed him to paddle hard but it was too late for him to avoid going into the river wide sieve.


 Then the locals ran over and told him to paddle strongly, because it takes a lot of speed to make it through the notch, but he didn’t start paddling hard until he was going down the first part of the drop. Once he went into the sieve he initially got pinned while in his boat. The doctors said that he broke his ribs on his side and punctured his lung with the impact. I was following him and I jumped out of my boat on river right immediately to go help him.


It is not clear to me what happened for the next 20-30 seconds as I was getting out of my kayak to go help him and could not see him, but the others told me that Dan rolled up in the eddy. By the time I was able to see him again he was out of his boat, and conscious. Another crew member, José Luis, had gotten a rope to him in an eddy. Unfortunately, he was using his hand to grip the rope and attempting to climb out using the rope. He was unable talk or to climb out, so I told him to just float down so the he would come around the eddy to the bank, but he frantically tried to climb the rope over the sieve.  I assume that he could feel the suction because he kept climbing the rope. I was on the bank side so I told him to take my rope, but as soon as he had it he climbed it too which kept him out of the current that would bring him around to the bank.


I was on a flat rock so, amazingly, I had the strength to walk him up the rock a little ways, but the side was vertical and he was not able to stay on it. The bank in front of us was tall, wet, and slippery so I could not change angles very much. So I asked him to just swim around the eddy to a low spot, while José Luis and I moved to a better location to catch him. He looked at me like I was crazy and then  let go of the rope and dove head first underwater into the sieve. We could see his body under the water, so we carefully walked into the water on a tether, and managed to get a rope on him, but he was unconscious by then, and his boat came down too. So José Luis pried the boat off him with his feet, and then started pulling Dan out of the sieve. 


 My friend Christian told me to start documenting so I got out my phone and found that I, no surprise, had no service. As I packed up the rope Christian tried to find a way into the sieve from downstream. We then immediately switched plans when he came out 10 minutes later. We started performing CPR on him, while swimming him into an eddy to continue CPR. Everybody in the crew was CPR trained so we took turns, but he was not responsive.  We continued CPR for thirty minutes, but stopped because we were in the middle of a remote inaccessible canyon with no cell reception and getting help into the canyon or evacuating the canyon with Dan at 5 pm was impossible. Half of the crew stayed with Dan while half of us went to get more supplies, inform his family, and arrange the evacuation. 

We said a prayer together to bless Dan, and thank God for everything before leaving to make all of the arrangements. All of us returned the next morning once we had permission to move him to the closest road. He left the river with the help of many local friends and neighbors on a zip line built that day along Cascada Tamul. Even though it was only by moonlight it was still the most beautiful place in the world which seemed appropriate for Dan who loved the water so much! Dan was the kindest family man that I ever met. His family enjoys their time on the water, and we will all miss the time with him. Dan was a close friend of mine who was always there for me and to help anyone that wanted to paddle. He consistently helped us to take the wounded Veterans out of the hospital each week, so there is a large community and family that relied on him. I am heartbroken by this and our crew will forever be with him in spirit. 

American tourist dies in the Huasteca Potosina


He was traveling with eight other paddlers
Dan Braly fell into the Gallinas River after losing control of a kayak 

November 4, 2020 by Redacción

Coadigo San Luis online newspaper; translated from Spanish by Google

Tamasopo, SLP.- A tourist of American origin lost his life when he fell from a kayak in the Gallinas River, in the limits of the Huasteca Potosina municipalities of Aquismón and Tamasopo. According to versions of the Secretary of Tourism of the State Government, Dan Braly toured the Huasteca with a group of eight North Americans led by Ben Kvanil and ventured to challenge the cold currents of the Gallinas River, but the force of nature won him over. When he fell from the kayak, he was swept away by the current and died.


Other versions assured that he had died in the Santa María River, but later it was found that the accident occurred on the Gallinas River in the limits of Aquismón with Tamasopo, since, this noon, his body was found in one of the areas of more difficult access of the places. The events occurred during the afternoon of Tuesday, November 3, and it was not until this Wednesday, at the edge of 2:00 p.m., when a group of volunteers and authorities from different instances located his body, already lifeless.


Authorities do not know if they hired the services of a tour guide or if they ventured themselves to tour the area that can be dangerous for people who do not know it and that, unfortunately, has claimed the lives of a significant number of people who do not drink the corresponding precautions when entering the places, rivers and trails of the region.


After what happened, municipal and state authorities have begun the procedures and liaison with the United States authorities, specifically with the Consulate and the Embassy , to achieve the repatriation of the body. The condition of the others who were traveling with him at the time of the accident is unknown so far.

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