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Accident Description

Summary of my experience on September 3rd

I will start with our run through Dragon’s Tooth rapid. Up until that point, all of the rapids on the river had been run successfully, and I had been aware of no swimmers and no problems. John’s raft was the first through Dragon’s tooth. In spite of a quick hang up at the entrance of the rapid (where one paddler was ejected and immediately recovered), his line was clean and they attained the eddy on river right below the rapid.

We had observed John’s run from the river left shore, and I was approximately 20 yards downstream of the tooth with a throw-bag. We observed that Labyrinth was filled in almost completely, with the reservoir pool starting just below the sharks fin rock on river left. Jenn and I returned to our rafts and prepared to run. Jenn’s raft went first. They ferried out from the river left eddy above the rapid and set-up to run from right-of-center. I lost sight of them as they entered the main rapid. My raft then began its entrance into the rapid. Our line was closer to river center, resulting in a quick spin and surf in the hole above the tooth. We passed the tooth facing upstream and I corrected our orientation through the wave train. Everyone stayed in the raft through the rapid, and I steered us into the eddy on river right.

Upon entering the eddy, I head John shouting from his raft while recoiling a throw-bag. He stated that here was someone stuck in the rocks on river left and they were one of our group. I looked down stream to see Jenn’s raft on the river-right side of the reservoir pool, but could not see anyone in the rocks. We paddled quickly back into the current to enter what was left of Labyrinth from river center.

Upon entering the current, we could see a person stuck between two rocks on river left. I stood and threw a bag from the rear of the raft. It hit her, but at that point she was underwater and not moving. We missed the turbulent eddy immediately below her entrapment, but finally grounded the raft on the river left shore down stream of the sharks fin rock. John, whose boat came right behind mine, and I exited our rafts and scrambled upstream on the bank to reach her location. As we were making our way upstream, there were a few rafts filling into the eddy below dragons tooth, just within sight. I told john to try and signal one for help as we made our way up to the location.

Kathryn was stuck between one partially submergerd rock on her right and a large boulder on her left. She was upright, but the current was forcing her torso downstream. The large boulder that was on her left was accessible by shore. As John and I made our way onto it another raft eddied out behind her entrapment (the crew was partially composed of off-duty Zoar Guides). One of the guides, Justice, got onto the rock and attempted to free Kathryn. John and I arrived at the same time. From our original position on the large boulder, we were not able to free her from her entrapment. Justice and John relocated around the boulder and into the water upstream of her to attempt further. The other Zoar guide, Erica May, was directing some of the RPI crew to signal danger and call for help, as commercial rafts were making their way into the eddy downstream of Dragons Tooth.

After several attempts, John was able to wrest Kathryn from her entrapment and, with the help of Justice and the other guides, get her to shore. I returned to the bank to assist with treatment. Erica and another guide (Crabapple) had positioned her on a relatively level spot and were starting treatment. Erica identified herself as a nurse, and I deferred direction of Kathryn’s treatment to her. Erica, the other guide and I checked Kathryn’s conditions and found her breathless and pulseless. We opened her drysuit and cut the neck and arm gaskets to facilitate CPR and rescue breathing access. Upon confirming no pulse or breath, Erica and the other guide (who was already at Kathryn’s head) started CPR and rescue breathing cycles under Erica’s direction.

After several cycles of CPR and rescue breathing, Kathryn began to gasp irregularly for air and vomit some. She was rolled over and I cleared her airway of regurgitated water and phlegm. After a few more cycles, her pulse returned and breathing, while labored, did too. Erica took continued to monitor her condition while her evacuation was coordinated. Throughout the resuscitation process, which was many minutes, numerous other boaters, both commercial and private, showed up and provided assistance of some sort. During this time 911 callers were dispatched, a backboard was sent for, and all efforts were made to improve Kathryn’s condition and expedite her rescue.

Several minutes into the CPR and rescue breathing, Frank Mooney of Crabapple arrived and began directing his crew and some of the recovery / evacuation procedures. From the point when Kathryn started breathing on her own, her condition slowly and steadily improved. Those by Kathryn’s side made every effort to keep her warm and talking as she became more conscious. When the backboard arrived she was carefully loaded onto it and secured. The backboard was hand-over-hand passed to a raft waiting in the eddy below her entrapment.

The two zoar Guides, Justice and Erica, Myself, Jonathan from RPI, and a few other rescuers paddled her across the reservoir. And, once grounded, carefully removed her to the parking area. The back board was situated on a raft trailer as we all waited for the ambulance to come. The North Adams Fire Department arrived followed shortly there after by the ambulance that would ultimately take Kathryn to the hospital. During the paddle to shore her condition improved and her level of awareness increased significantly. By the time she was loaded on the ambulance her sentences were coherent and her level of awareness was improving.

I followed the Ambulance to North Adams Regional Hospital with Jonathan and Erica. While we were in the waiting room and the ER staff was working on Kathryn, I made the call to RPI public safety and spoke with the Mass. State Police to apprise them of the situation. Shortly after we arrived, the nurse gave us the good news that Kathryn’s condition was stable and that she was being warmed up. There seemed to be no serious physical or mental injury. As Kathryn’s treatment and observation in the hospital continued, I was in contact with the other guides, Jenn and John, as well as RPI public safety and the RPI dean of students. I did my best to keep everyone informed, including Kathryn when I had an opportunity to talk with her. At Kathryn’s request, I attempted to contact her parents and ended up leaving a detailed message regarding her condition and how to contact her. Jonathan and I left after Kathryn was moved to a Critical Care Unit room for overnight monitoring.

On my drive home I contacted Erica, Frank at Crabapple, Zoar, and the RPI crew to give a final update and thank everyone for their efforts. Charlie,


There was a near miss on the Deerfield river today. It involved a rafter from a local college who swam through Dragons Tooth when her raft dump trucked. A few Zoar guides were playing at the top of Labyrinth in a private raft when they pulled in behind an eddy on river left and one of them noticed something in the water upstream of them. After a second he realized it was a body underwater. The person was wedged in a crack. A Zoar guide guide jumped out and tried to extricate her, but was unable to at first. One of the other rafters from her group then came downstream along the shore and jumped in and helped. The two of them were able to get her out and with the help of a few Crabapple guides who were just downstream of them in Labyrinth they pulled her up onto a rock.

By that time another of our guides who is a nurse had climbed onto the rock and began cpr. After about 3 or 4 cycles of cpr she revived. They figured she had been underwater for at least 3 to 7 minutes. They then put her onto a backboard and rafted her to the takeout where she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Our guide who is a nurse went with her to the hospital and as of the last report, the woman is expected to recover fully. Apparently she was pinned in a narrow slot just at the top of Labyrinth on river left. Her hips were stuck in the slot and she was bent forward almost like a bow pin in a kayak. Our guide who first tried to extricate her said he was standing just upstream of her and tried to pick her up by her pfd, but he was just pulling it off of her, so he tried to lift her by her legs, but that didn't work. When the other person got in the water to help him, they were able to lift her by her hips, but it was difficult. If you want more information, I can get you in touch with the people involved. We're all very happy that it worked out well, but the two who were most involved were pretty shaken up by it.

Bruce Lessels