Accident Database

Report ID# 115979

  • Foot Entrapment
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Having SUP'd a bit I can offer that it is tempting and possible to fall/pencil hard and feet first - something nearly impossible from a raft or kayak (except when swimming over a drop) - though I'm not sure if he was entrapped in the feature he was surfing or one downstream that he swam into. And surfers rarely wear PFD's (though obviously he must have been at least wearing a thick wetsuit which is somewhat floaty). Sounds also like a wave-shaper design that did not anticipate this risk. There are likely some lessons to learn from this one. 

Kevin Colburn
National Stewardship Director
American Whitewater

Bend Park and Rec accepts report on Whitewater Park teen surfer’s death,

OKs planned changes, June 18 reopening

 Park board approves plans to improve surf wave safety, reopen June 18 if conditions met,


BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A combination of low spring river levels, a tangled quick-release leash and small gaps between parts of the Bend Whitewater Park's "surf wave" contributed to the death of a teen surfer this spring, investigators said Tuesday as they outlined changes made and planned to reduce the risk of a repeat tragedy.

The April 30 incident that killed Bend 17-year-old Ben Murphy prompted closure of that channel of the whitewater park pending an extensive investigation of what went wrong and a variety of steps are taken to reduce the risk – though all involved told the Bend Park and Rec Board it’s impossible to completely eliminate that risk in a turbulent whitewater environment.

Various structural changes, including addition of so-called “sweepers,” have already been made to eliminate the gaps between the pneumatic gates and bladders that control the shape of the wave and the “static kickers” added to help provide optimum conditions.

Deputy Executive Director Michelle Healy said Murphy’s recovered quick-release leash was broken off and “evidence showed it was very stretched, which indicated it probably was under high stress. Throughout the length is black rubber, likely from the protective black around the gates – that’s our best estimate where that came from.”


Surfer, 17, dies at Bend Whitewater Park after becoming trapped under wave

Published: May. 03, 2022

By Michael Krohn, The Bulletin;

The surfer who died after he was trapped underwater for several minutes at the Bend Whitewater Park on Saturday was 17-year-old Ben Murphy of Bend, according to a family statement posted on social media. Murphy spent six minutes underwater at the standing wave as friends and other surfers flung themselves into the water in an attempt to free him from the underwater panels that make the wave.

Murphy was pulled from the water downstream, given CPR and rushed to St. Charles Bend, where he died, according to the statement posted on Facebook. “I want to thank everyone for their prayers and support over the last two days. Knowing that we were covered in prayer gave us great peace and comfort as we navigated what no parent is equipped for,” according to the statement posted by the youth’s father, Patrick Murphy.

The incident is the first fatality at the Bend Whitewater Park, which opened in 2015. At least six fatalities have been reported at standing wave features on other rivers in the U.S. and Canada in recent years, according to data compiled by Surf Anywhere, a firm that designs river waves. The Whitewater Park is manipulated in real time by adjusting 26 air bladders which are permanently affixed to the river bed. The park, operated by Bend Park & Recreation District, has been closed to surfers since the accident.

In his post, Patrick Murphy said his son was pronounced dead by hospital staff after one hour of CPR and cardiac shock treatment. After a faint heartbeat was detected, Ben Murphy was moved to the intensive care unit for treatment. “The St. Charles staff was more than amazing and worked to keep Ben comfortable and his vitals slowly improved for the first eight hours,” Patrick Murphy stated in the post. “He was on oxygen, tons of medication and was sedated to keep him comfortable.” Patrick Murphy said despite considerable effort by doctors to keep the his son alive, his son’s organs eventually started to fail and he was pronounced dead by St. Charles staff.

The park felt eerily still on Monday, aside from the intermittent chirps from birds and the white noise of the water. On the rocky steps leading to the wave sat bouquets of sunflowers, baby’s breath and carnations as a memorial. On a bench that sits on a strip of land in the middle of river, a note secured by a small rock, flapped in the wind.  Candles were delicately placed on top of some of the rocks close to shore.

Stetson Talley, a 21-year-old Bend resident, was one of the many surfers who tried to save Ben Murphy. Talley said he was at the front of the line when he saw Murphy fall and get his foot stuck in a gate that helps operate the wave. He recalls everyone at the park panicking, trying to figure out how to respond. After a minute, Talley saw Murphy come back up to take a breath of air before going back down into the water. “It was pretty obvious to me and everyone else there that he was unable to help himself,” said Talley.

At that point, other surfers began jumping in to try to help Murphy, he said. Talley, who has worked as a lifeguard for four years, said he jumped in six or seven times in an attempt to save Murphy. Many others did, too. Video of the events showed surfers at one point trying to form a human link to walk and swim into the river to save him. Others dove in with their surfboards as a way to reach Murphy. At one point, Talley recalled holding Murphy’s board and leash, which was still attached to Murphy’s leg. Eventually the wave was shut off and Talley helped pull Murphy out of the river downstream so others could begin CPR. “There was nothing we could do and it was a helpless situation,” he said. “It was terrifying.”

Talley, who said he has been surfing on and off at the wave for the last three years, said he and other surfers he knows have also caught their feet in the crack between the gates that operate the wave. When those incidents occurred he was been able to dislodge his foot in time before getting sucked under. Talley said he doesn’t believe it is anyone’s fault and that this event could not have been foreseen, but said the park district should add more safety measures before the wave opens again.

Bend Police Department communications manager Sheila Miller said there is no evidence of a crime and the incident is not under investigation. District spokesperson Julie Brown said safety features to prevent drownings have been “discussed in the past” and will be revisited as part of an immediate evaluation of the park’s bladder and gate system. Safety features could include an emergency shut-off and equipment such as rings and ropes, she said.

There were no river conditions on Saturday that would have heightened risk, according to a statement from the district.


Teen surfer who was trapped underwater, rescued at Bend Whitewater Park has died, pastor says

Had become trapped underwater in the rocks; BPRD shuts down wave feature

By Barney Lerten, Carly Keenan, Kelsey McGee KTVZ-TV

May 1, 2022 6:14 PM

Published April 30, 2022

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A Bend 17-year-old who became trapped underwater for several minutes Saturday while surfing with friends at the Bend Whitewater Park has died, the family’s pastor confirmed Sunday.

Keith Kirkpatrick, co-lead pastor at Journey Church in Bend, posted a brief public Facebook video and note Sunday afternoon to give the sad update about church member Ben Murphy’s passing. “Friends, this is the update I did not want to ever have to share,” Kirkpatrick said in hushed, pained tones. “Ben is at home with the Lord Jesus. He passed away during a small procedure.”

The pastor offered thanks and gratitude to the thousands who were praying for the teen and for his family. In the posting, Kirkpatrick asked, “Please do not reach out to the family at this time. Honor their requests for privacy. We continue to pray for the Murphy family. We love them and grieve with them.”

Police officers and Bend Fire & Rescue were called around 12:20 p.m. Saturday to a reported water rescue at the whitewater park, located at the Colorado Avenue spillway, Bend Police Communications Manager Sheila Miller said.

The first responders learned the teen had been surfing with a group when he became trapped underwater in the rocks, Miller said.

Bystanders and others in Murphy's group were able to pull him from the water, and first responders performed CPR for about 30 minutes before he was taken to the hospital.

A webcam video overlooking the surfing area showed the teen apparently entering the water, going under and not surfacing. Soon, other surfers are seen diving in, one after the other, in an attempt to free him. Minutes later, several people on scene are seen running downriver, out of the webcam's view, where apparently he was pulled from the water.

A nearby resident, Isabella Ludwig, who went to the scene said more needs to be done for safety of the surfers. "Especially witnessing this today, I think it's really important that something needs to happen, honestly, becuase there are so many tourists that come into Bend that don't know anything about the rapids, and think -- just a sign or something," Ludwig said.

The Bend Park and Recreation District, which operates the whitewater park, provided this statement to NewsChannel 21: “Our thoughts are with the individual and their friends and family as we are awaiting additional information. The wave features are down now and will remain this way until we assess conditions. Any serious accident is a tragedy and a sad day for our facilities and community.”

Park district spokeswoman Julie Brown said this was the first such incident at the whitewater park since it opened in 2015.

The whitewater park was developed with removal of the Colorado Avenue Dam that had been a safety hazard for river floaters. It has three channels: a river right habitat channel, a center whitewater experts channel and a river left passageway called the Fish Ladder for river floaters.

Flow in the whitewater channel is controlled by a series of gates and 26 underwater pneumatic bladders that create waves, depending on water conditions. The park is used by surfers, whitewater kayakers, bodyboarders, paddleboarders and tubers.

Friends try to save teen trapped underwater at whitewater park, Oregon officials say

BY DON SWEENEY, Tacoma, WA News Tribune

MAY 02, 2022

 A 17-year-old boy died Saturday, April 30, after becoming trapped in underwater rocks at Bend Whitewater Park, Oregon officials said. The teen had been surfing with friends when he vanished beneath the water at 12:20 p.m., a news release by Bend firefighters and police said. His friends and bystanders pulled the teen from the water, but he died at a hospital after emergency crews tried to revive him for 30 minutes, the release said.

His family identified him as Ben Murphy of Bend in a Facebook post, The Bulletin reported. “Our thoughts are with the individual and their friends and family as we are awaiting additional information,” wrote Bend Parks & Recreation District officials in a Facebook post.

Wave features at the whitewater park have been shut down for the time being, the post said. The district said it was the first such incident at the park since it opened in 2015, KTVZ reported. The whitewater park is along the Deschutes River in Bend, a city of nearly 94,000 people in central Oregon. The park “offers a variety of river recreation opportunities including tubing, kayaking, and surfing,” according to its website.


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