Accident Database

Report ID# 2350

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

Kayaker has wild river ride
By STEPHANIE HOOPER, Telegraph Staff
Published: Friday, Apr. 20, 2007

NASHUA – Michael Blair told officers he was “very afraid” as he clung to a log in the Nashua River by the Mine Falls hydroelectric dam early Thursday night. Twenty minutes prior, at about 5:15 p.m., Blair, 32, of Nashua, had made the fateful decision to try to kayak the massive amount of cold water as it rushed over the dam, Nashua police Sgt. Frank Sullivan said. Immediately after entering the water, Blair’s kayak rolled and Blair was tossed and stuck, his leg jammed under a log near the rapids, Sullivan said. Managing to free his leg, Blair, who was wearing a wetsuit and a personal floatation device, held onto the log in the frigid water for about 20 minutes before finally letting go. “He said he lost strength and could no longer hang on,” Sullivan said.

Blair made it downstream, ending up on an island in the middle of the river where firefighters eventually found him at about 7 p.m. “He was shaking uncontrollably. His legs were extremely weak, and he told us he wanted to sit down,” said Nashua Fire Rescue Lt. Byron Breda, who supervised the dive team operation to remove Blair from the island. According to Sullivan, Blair’s girlfriend called 911 to report Blair missing on the river after losing contact with him on a two-way radio and then seeing his paddle floating in the river by her residence. The woman told Sullivan that Blair had entered the water near the Home Depot on Coliseum Avenue at about 3 p.m. and that she had kept in contact with him on a two way radio, hearing him last at about 5:15 p.m. “She thought that all was well, but at about 6:05, she was having dinner at an apartment overlooking the river and she saw one of his paddles,” Sullivan said. The woman rushed down to the dam, Sullivan said, then called 911 after spotting Blair’s kayak stuck in the dam. Two dive teams with separate engine companies were dispatched to opposite ends of the river, said Deputy Fire Chief Steven Galipeau, one to the area of the dam and the other to an area of river behind Cheyenne Drive.

Members of Engines 2 and 4 arrived at the dam at 6:53 p.m., where Blair’s girlfriend pointed out the kayak. Minutes later firefighters Will Oleksak and John Frazier, both outfitted in dry suits and tethered to the shore, had begun wading into the rapidly moving water when firefighters spotted Blair on the island, about 100 feet from the shore. “He was just waiting for help,” Galipeau said. The water, which Galipeau guessed was about 45 degrees, was knee- to waist-deep in various spots, but was moving at a quick clip, about 3 knots, he said. The tiny island, which was mostly a group of trees, was about 100 yards from the where the massive amount of water was pouring over the dam. After tethering Blair to their line, Oleksak and Frazier attempted to walk him across the water, but ended up carrying him due to his weak condition, Breda said.

The firefighters made it to shore with Blair at 7:13 p.m. and took him into a dive rescue vehicle, where he was immediately wrapped up in blankets and rejoined with his girlfriend, Galipeau said. Blair was later transferred to a Rockingham Ambulance where medics administered warm fluids intravenously and took him to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center. “He is going to be OK,” Sullivan said. Blair suffered abrasions and bruising to one of his legs, as well as hypothermia, he said. Blair was a novice who had been kayaking for only about a month, according to Sullivan. Blair told him he had entered the river near the dam weeks earlier, but before the recent nor’easter caused water levels to rise, he said. “He is a lucky guy,” Sullivan said.

Stephanie Hooper can be reached at 594-6413 or


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