Accident Database

Report ID# 115259

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water

Accident Description

Caples River, New Zealand (2021-11-22)

Probable Factors

Presumed flush drowning

Wood hazards were present and the boat was damaged, but nobody really knows what happened

High water

Grade: Class II+

Stephen Andrew Bowler, 30, died in a packrafting incident on the Caples River, New Zealand. Rescuers responded to a PLB (personal location beacon) SOS call.

Stephen and two partners were on a three-day packrafting excursion. At normal water levels, the river is Class II with three gorges of greater difficulty. The first two gorges feature Class III/IV drops and frequent wood hazards. The water was high, estimated at three times median flow.

The group had committed to portaging all of the gorges, but Stephen re-assessed and decided to run the first gorge, alone. Stephen’s boat was punctured and his helmet showed signs of impact, but not necessarily from this incident. He was wearing a life vest but not a dry suit.


Queenstown man killed in rafting accident was passionate about wildlife

Jonathan Guildford

Nov 25 2021

Stephen Andrew Bowler, pictured here in the Eglinton Valley in Fiordland in 2019, died in a rafting accident near Queenstown. A Queenstown scientist who died in a rafting accident near Lake Wakatipu was passionate about making a difference for wildlife and lived his life to the fullest, family say.

Stephen Andrew Bowler, 30, died on Monday while rafting with friends on the Caples River. It is understood the group was rafting on the river in inflatable packrafts before Bowler was found dead in the river at about 1pm. His sister, Michelle Bowler, said her brother was “an incredibly loved and adored son, brother, nephew, uncle and friend”.

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