Non-Witness Narrative by Thomas O'Keefe
On 11-13-2006 at approximately 1340 hours Christina Watson, 20, and Jennifer Cooper left from the Tumbling Rapids Campground with plans to float the swollen and swift waters (from recent rains) of the Sol Duc River to the Sol Duc fish hatchery on the end of Pavel Road. Both Cooper and Watson were floating upon their own separate inner tubes and each had one paddle for navigation. Both were wearing wet suits and life jackets (PFDs).
Just minutes into the trip, Watson drifted into a large log lodged between several pillared logs just below the Sol Duc River bridge on State Route 101 at mile post 203.15. Cooper watched Watson's inner tube as it was forced under the log by the heavy current and became entangled amongst the log debris. Cooper stated Watson reached around the log and began yelling for help, stating that she was trapped, while being forced beneath.
Cooper stated that she quickly left her innner tube and swam to shore to get help. By the time she got to shore she was several hundred feet downriver of where Watson was trapped. Cooper walked up the steep bank to Pavel Road where she flagged down a Federal Express driver who drove her from Pavel Road to the Sol Duc bridge. Cooper stated that once she got to the bridge, Watson was entirely submerged beneath the log and lifeless. Jack Olson, whose residence is adjacent to the river, observed Watson clinging to the log from his back porch. Olson overheard Watson yelling for help and observed Cooper swimming towards the shore. Olson stated Watson became completely submerged beneath the water and became lifeless only minutes after his wife dialed 911 at 1358 hours.
At approximately 1419 hours I was the first responder to arrive at the scene. Upon arrival I observed Cooper standing with Olson on the Sol Duc River bridge deck. Both Olson and Cooper stated Watson had been lifeless for twenty minutes or more and had been completely submerged beneath the water. Both felt she had already drowned and that there was nothing anyone could do to save her. I looked over the bridge deck and could see Watson's legs extended from beneath the log on the downstream side of the log. Her upper body and head were completely submerged beneath the log. The water was extremely swift and the river swollen from recent rains. There were no swift water rescue teams immediately available to respond in a timely manner to the scene. The river current and hazards at the scene were too treacherous for non-boat recovery efforts. Watson showed no signs of life.
At approximately 1712 hours Olympic National Park Rangers using an inflatable boat with motor were able to reach Watson and free her from the log. Watson's body was transported by ambulance to the Forks Community Hospital where her body was released to the Harper Ridgeview Funeral Home. A coroner's hold was placed upon Watson's body.Efforts to add wood structures, or any structures, into rivers should carefully consider the recreational uses of a specific reach. Structures should be located and designed with input from the recreational community to minimize risk of injuring or killing someone, and the public should be warned of the increased risks associated with structures at all river access areas near the structures.