Accident Database

Report ID# 2178

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

What follows is my account of the situation, and details are accurate as far as I know. Water level was very close to 0" on the visual gauge, temperature was in the mid to lower 50's, overcast and raining. There were 6 in the involved party, one female and 4 male companions that knew each other, and one local male who had tagged along at the put-in The river was not rising.

The incident occurred at the first of two 5' ledges below a junky Class II ledge garden and immediately above Boatbuster/Thunderhole. As we (our party of 2, myself and Karen Nicolai, an Asheville nurse) navigated the ledge garden upstream, we saw the involved group out of their boats, and a separate party of 2 males and a female watching on. From my understanding (as told by one of the rescuers to me afterwards), while we were approaching, Jamie (the victim, the only name I have, he was in his mid-20's at best guess, as were the rest of his party) drifted into the ledge drop with no speed and got surfed in the recirculating eddy/hydraulic. He then punched out, and fought epically for about 2 minutes at which point he stopped moving and floated around the hole for approximately another 2 minutes, unresponsive to ropes thrown to him, until a rope tangled around his foot and they were able to pull him free.

He was pulled onto the small rock island immediately below and to the right of the drop, where no pulse or breathing could be found. He was tilted on his side, and pounded on the back, at which point he began retching and vomiting river water. Four rescue breaths were administered at which point he retched and vomited again and began breathing.

At this point, Karen and I arrived in the eddy below the rapid, and I ferried to the rock island and we asked if everything was OK. We were told he was fine, and would be fine (not knowing at this point that he had not been breathing). I then got a glimpse of his face and realized the situation was slightly more serious than the group was accepting it for. I assessed if there was an airway, if he was responsive, and noted that he was still a pale blue color, and began planning the evacuation immediately.

Someone flagged a vehicle on the river left side, and a number of folks in street clothes had gathered on the bank. We decided to move Jamie back across the river using a reverse bear-hug ferry, as we lacked any sort of open top boat for him to ride in, and he was not capable of balancing a kayak. I ferried the rope across, and got the help of several onlookers in pulling Jamie across in the arms of one of his paddling companions, pulled him out of the water at which point he vomited again. Two men in street clothes helped carry Jamie to the waiting vehicle, and Karen accompanied them in the vehicle to treat for hypothermia and shock. With no cell service in the Gorge, they drove to the nearest Fire/Rescue station, where they had service and were met by a local rescuer who took Jamie inside and began treatment.

Shortly after, an ambulance arrived and took Jamie and his female companion to Morganton's local hospital. This was the group's first time on Wilson Creek, the level was certainly not dangerously high, but the conditions at this particular rapid lead to a very serious turn of events. Jamie was severely under dressed to have spent that much time in water that cold.

 Ben Gaston


Boaterttalk Postings Tuesday, January 9 Wilson's Creek Near Miss Arrived there a little before noon when some mtn bikers approached us and asked if we had cell phones, knowing we didn't get service, we quickly ask what's up. They said an accident happened with a kayaker, he was blue, not breathing, and CPR was being performed. We jumped into the car and hauled ass up towards the ranger station, to get to the phone quickly. We passed the group on the way up, and they said the guy was conscious and breathing. They were going to get him the hell out of that gorge, but didn't hear anything else. My only question: is he OK? Thanks in advance, and sorry for being the bearer of bad news on BT.

He is OK-Hosptial but just for a check. I was holding off on posting anything but I was actually there for all but the actual victim being in the water first hand...we came upon this group immediately after they had gotten him on the rocks and halfway breathing. I'll be happy to share my witness of the incident if you don't think it will rile any feathers or if it's "Too Early" When we approached the first ledge before boatbuster/thunder hole (before the ledge with a piton rock on it) we saw a group on river right around someone apparently in distress. He was breathing but appeared to be in shock and getting hypothermic. (apparently he swam and got worked in the hole below that ledge for quite a while and aspirated some water) to my knowledge a few rescue breaths were administered and he started breathing on his own.

Fortunately we were able to get him to the other side of the river and out of the gorge and once warm was alert. He was driven to the Oak Hill Fire Dept. (where we finally had a cell phone signal) and an ambulance was called and he was taken to the hospital. He appeared to be OK, just hypothermic and shook up. He was a boater (Jamie) down for the weekend from VA. That is all I know, my thoughts and prayers are with him. Safe paddling Karen

On Sunday, Jan 7, 2007, myself along with 4 other boaters headed to Wilson Creek. The level was about 0" on the gauge. We had not paddled this section before but had previous experience on the Watuaga and other creeks and felt confident we could handle Wilson creek. We got an early start to give us plenty of time to scout the major rapids and work our way down. At the put in, we met Ethan, who had paddled this section a couple times and was looking to join a group. Our group, now with 6 paddlers, worked our way down to 10 foot falls, scouted and then ran the falls, with no problems. We then began working down to Boatbuster. After some minor drops, we came to about a 6 ft ledge with a sticky looking hole at the bottom (I'd guess class III/III+), probably about mile 0.4. It's not a named rapid on AW. Our options were to punch the left side of the hole, punch the center of the hole, a boof on the right of the ledge or run a far right rocky sneak route. I was leading and opted for the boof and two others in our group followed. With 3 boaters below and 3 above, the next paddler, Jamie, ran the boof, penciled in and got back endered into the ledge hole. After a few attempts to roll up he pulled his skirt and while his paddle and boat floated free, he did not. He tried to swim free but could not, then tried balling up to get flushed but was also unsuccessful.

While this was going on, the rest of our group was getting out of their boats to throw ropes. After some falied attempts to grap the ropes, Jamies head stopped resurfacing for air but we kept throwin our lines into the hole. By a miracle, our lines wrapped around his legs and we were able to pull him out. At this point he had probably been in the hole about 2 minutes and unconcious for 1 minute. Our hands were too cold to check for a pulse but he was not breathing and his face was blue. Luckily we were all trained in CPR and 4 members stayed with him to administer rescue breathing while I ran up the bank to the road to flag down help.

After 4 cycles of rescue breaths and being unconcious for about 2 minutes, he began to cough up water and breath on his own, thank God. After about 15 minutes of coughing up water, he was strong enough sit up but he was now hypotherminc. With the help of other boaters on the river and ones I had flagged down we were able to get him across the creek and up the hill to my car where we then took him to the local hospital. He has since made a full recovery.

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