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Accident Description

Personal Account: I ended up in the sieve by sheer ignorance. Before Saturday I had been on the Upper G. 4 or 5 times. I had heard about the sieve, but I remembered it incorectly as being in Insignificant. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was that I didn't follow my group who knew the river better than I. They went left, I thought I would explore a different line going right.

As I went right around the wave I imediately started to realize that I was in trouble. I was stuck on a line that was feeding right into the sieve. I tried to paddle back to the left, but could not get over the rock which I believe formed the left side of the sieve. As I aproached the sieve itself, where the rocks meet, I tried to straighten my Big Wheel in hopes of making it over the rock. At that point my bow struck the rocks, getting pushed down into the sieve and I was vertically pinned. I was pinned at the waist between my boat and the rock. Initially there was no way I was coming out of my boat or the sieve without assistance. My memory is fuzzy about the details, but I can report what I rember from the rescue. Initially I felt stuck, but stable. I stayed as calm as possible, trying not to panic. My group was 50+ yrds down stream from the rapid before they noticed me. My brother tried to come around to help, but had to make his way up the eddy and ferry accross. A raft tried to get to me, but had trouble. Then a guy who I believed is named Mike got out on the rock and put a stablizing line on my stern. Mike and the rest of the rescuers then got me a bit higher out of the water and more on the right rock of the sieve. This was probably at about 15 to 20 min.

Along with thier efforts to move me I attempted to push and pull myself up and over the rocks, which zapped my energy. After the initial push that got me out of the middle of the sieve I held onto the downstream side of the rock, while the guys in the raft got the line set and prepared the final heave-ho. At this point I started to really get scared, but tried not to panic. I exchanged some broken words with Mike, which I'm sure gave him an indication of my diminishing state. He gave me a little bit of reasuance and I held on and prayed that I would make it out of this situation.

Once the raft had a line set and pulled good and hard I was out, flipping over the rock and into the pool below after about 30 to 45 minutes being stuck. I tried to hand roll, but my effort was completely vain. I have never been so happy to swim in my life. Once out of my boat some raft guides swooped in and pick me up. I did get a little chastisement from one of the guides for wearing my Bengals jearsy, which he sais made it harder for him to pick me up. Oh yeah I guess I should metion that one of those guys was a Browns fan, which made his assistance an even nicer gesture.

In all seriousness though, a big thanks to all the people who saved my life. Thanks to Mike, the guys from I believe Noth American River runners, the raft guests holding the stabliztion line in the photo, a big thanks to Liquid Logic for making a boat that didn't break, thanks to the person who threw my paddle onto the rock. I don't know how I can repay you guys but thanks. All of you made it possible for me to finish my first marathon, spend that day with my fiance, Bree, on the lower, and live to paddle another day. At the end of the day I know that some things could have been done differently to avoid the situation. I should have been aware of the danger and stayed away from it. My group probably should have reminded me and each other about the seive. I was not on a river that was too difficult for me, I just got into a bad spot that should have been avoided. Luckily for me I'm alive and able to write this post.


THINK RAIN A WHITEWATER JOURNAL Saturday, September 16, 2006: Initiation Rapid This was our first weekend on the Gauley this year. Saturday Scott and Ben decided to go for the Marathon again. Mark and Justin were both thoroughly horrified by the idea and I wasn't too keen on it either overall so the three of us just stuck to the Upper. We would pick them up at the takeout for the lower at the end of the day. We had plenty of time so we took it slow. When we got to Initiation I eddied out on river left and signaled to Mark and Justin to make sure they remembered where to go. I do this every time we run the Gauley, even if I know that everyone remembers it. I want to be very sure.

We ran the rapid and eddied out on the right at the bottom. I looked upstream and to my surprise and horror I saw a guy trapped in the sieve. His bow was down deep, stern sticking up straight in the air. But at least his head was a good ways above the water and he seemed to be stable. There were a few people in the eddy already, including some rafts. It had clearly just happened. One person was already scrambling up the rock next to the sieve to help. He quickly anchored himself with rope and walked down the slide beside the sieve (apparently there are anchors in place right there, a very sad necessity for this river). He tried pulling on the boat to free it but there was no way he was going to budge probably close to 200lbs of boat, paddler and water, especially with the force that was pushing down on him. Pulling his skirt was not an option since the boat would then fill with water and potentially pull him further under the rock.

He started shouting instructions to other people in the group. We all had gotten out. They worked quickly at getting ropes out. A couple of the raft guides got their customers out on the shore and paddled up to the base of the rapid. They tied a rope between the pinned boat and the raft. The pinned boater was obviously getting extremely exhausted. We could see him slump down but was still keeping his head above water and was able to lift it up some. Eventually, after more useless attempts at pulling on the boat, they tied another rope to the other end of the raft and threw it to the people on shore. It missed so Justin jumped in, grabbed it and swam back into the eddy. Finally they had enough leverage. At this point a good crowd had gathered in the eddy and on the shore around the sieve. Mark joined a couple of people including members of the pinned boater's group and some rafters for a tug-of-war of sorts with the sieve. It was great to see everyone working together to save this guy's life. They lined up and grabbed the rope and pulled hard. It didn't take long before the boat was extracted as they all fell back.

The boater swam free. Besides what was probably serious exhaustion he seemed fine. It took approximately 45 minutes to get him out. Two people have died in this sieve and there have been many close calls. He was very lucky to have a made it out alive. Apparently he had forgotten what rapid this was and mistakenly took the right line down into the sieve. A most unfortunate choice. We had speculated that he might have been surfing the "no-no" wave above the sieve. This was NOT the case. However, that is how the death in 1994 occurred. I don't care how good you think you are! Don't ever even think about surfing that wave. It's a pretty crappy looking wave anyway and there are plenty way better playspots on the river. If you are running the Upper Gauley for the first time make sure you know where Initiation is and where the correct line is. There are diagrams of the rapid and the dangerous sieve posted near the put in. These diagrams are provided by Surf City, an amalgam of Friends of the Gauley, Float Fishermen of Virginia, Songer Whitewater , the DNR, amongst others. NPS has agreed to post these diagrams of the rapid in order to warn people of the danger. These diagrams were done by a helicopter fly-over, wherein photos were shot straight down in sequence, then the diagrams were drawn from the photos so they would be as cloase an absolute match to reality as possible (Thanks to Bill Tanger of Surf City for providing this info).

Please be aware of the location of this hazard and stay away from it! Though this should go without saying, here is the disclaimer provided with the diagrams.

DISCLAIMER: "This map is not a substitute for scouting, adequate safety procedures, and good judgement.It is only a source of information to help you boat safely. The map is based on 2800 cfs [normal fall release level], higher or lower flows will decrease the accuracy of this map. Routes are only suggestions. " So if you're taking anyone down for the first time (or second, or third...) make sure they know exactly which rapid it is and where the sieve is. Stop at the top of the rapid (on river left!!) and make sure everyone has a good look at the surroundings such that they will recognize it in the future. Also it always seems like this rapid comes up earlier than i expect it to. The AW site says it is .9 miles from the put in but this is NOT correct. It is actually approximately .75 miles from the put in!! Be ready for it! Be safe out there!

SYOTR posted by Maggie