Location: Tonsina River
Type: Search & Rescue / Death Investigation
On August 9, 2021 at approximately 1329 hours, Alaska State Troopers were notified that a kayaker had flipped his kayak on the Tonsina River approximately 2 miles from the Richardson Highway. The kayaker, 36-year-old Valdez resident Reese Doyle, was underwater for approximately ten minutes before other members of his kayaking group were able to recover him from the water. The group attempted lifesaving efforts for approximately 45 minutes without success. Alaska State Troopers responded via HELO 3 and recovered Mr. Doyle’s body. His remains are being sent to the State Medical Examiner for further review. Next of kin have been notified.
Jule Harle, Local River guide, on her FB page:
I've struggled with deciding whether to post this or not, but decided I should, as it's a pretty real safety concern for boaters on the Lower Tonsina River. The hard to see problem wood is after the 5th or 6th bend once the rapid section begins (approximately 4 miles into the run) near waypoint. You can sneak/completely avoid the wood by going down the separate left channel, or hugging & staying close to the big rock on the right side- there's a 10-15 ft gap free of wood.
The rapids on the Lower Tonsina are class III at current water levels (photo shows 9.2ft) but the wood danger is real and constant throughout the run. The river banks are thick with trees- numerous rocks throughout the run can easily hold logs of all sizes. There has been talk in the community about “difficulty vs danger” ratings & descriptions- here is a perfect example. Fairly straightforward class III/III+ whitewater rapids, but constantly changing water levels & weather factors keep the dangerous wood potential high & ever present, even for those familiar with the run.
The problem wood responsible for Monday’s fatality comes up quick and is mostly underwater; it's impossible to see from upstream at water level. It can easily flip or pin a smaller craft, ie: kayaks/packrafts or trap a swimmer.
Stay safe out there; sending endless love & support to Reese Doyle’s family, friends & the whitewater community.