Accident Database

Report ID# 14

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Inadequate Equipment

Accident Description

The Susitna River through Devil's Canyon is one of Alaska's greatest whitewater  challenges: a cold, continuous version of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado with rapids of even greater difficulty. By 1982 only nine other people had successfully run it. Jochim Kurt Lang was an expert German racer, instructor, and guide. He and his partner had heard of the river in Germany and had gotten copies of Walt Blackadar's sketches of the rapid. They  traveled to Alaska from Germany to attempt the run.

After a familiarization trip on the Nenana (Class IV) they hitchhiked up to the Susitna Bridge on the Alaskan Highway and put in. Eight days later they arrived at the head of Devil's Canyon and portaged their gear around so they could run the river in light boats. On August 14, 1982 Lorenc ran Devil Creek Rapid while his partner remained on shore to take photographs. He flipped and rolled several times before bailing out. When he swam he seemed dazed and helpless. He passed through "The Nozzle", a big constricted rapid just downstream, then disapeared.

His partner returned to his boat and, taking a different line, and ran the canyon successfully. Lang's body was found on August 14th at the mouth of Indian Creek, below the canyon,

According to Andrew Embeck, a very experienced Alaskan paddler and mountaineer who filed this report, this death came because the pair did not prepare for the extreme nature of the Susitna. Even experts need to make adjustments to the extremely cold, silty water. He recommends high flotation PFDs, the best possible cold water protection, and most important, taking familiarization runs on other difficult Alaskan rivers. He also believes that Blackadar's rapid diagram indicates that the correct line is way too far left. Had he talked with other Susitna veterand he might have understood where he needed to be.

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