Accident Database

Report ID# 2400

  • Foot Entrapment
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

David Olson from Ketchum here. As Grant mentioned, my group of kayakers were behind the rafts by as much as five minutes at the time of the capsizing. We were flagged over by someone on the right bank above the rapid to warn us that there was an entrapment going on below the whale rocks and ropes were in the water. People adjacent to the rapid in the pullout were frantically waving to us to proceed down river and assist in a rescue. Three of us paddled as fast as we could to the left bank, below the whale rocks and above the two pin rocks Grant describes. We still did not understand where the victim was entrapped because as many times as we have been down this rapid, it has never been apparent that there is a flake of rock (and I've never been down it at lower flows) just under water and adjacent to the right side of the furthest left pin rock. It creates a crack perfect for a foot and leg entrapment.

As soon as I understood where I needed to go, I paddled into the eddy on the downstream side of the left-most pin rock trying to locate the victim. At this time I saw a life vest floating downstream, looked back to the rock and saw the victim, completely submerged, next to the rock. I paddled up to the downstream side of the rock and saw that there was another, smaller, moss-covered rock on the downstream side, about four inches out of the water, creating about a three foot square platform that I could crouch on. I threw my paddle, got out of my kayak onto this platform and tried siezing the victim any way I could. His head was downstream and he was facing up with about six inches to a foot of water rushing strongly over his face. I was reaching for his head, trying to pry him up but it was so slick, I had no purchase on the moss and no angle or leverage. The victim was completely unconscious this entire time and I am estimating that he had been submerged for at least ten minutes by the time I got to him. I believe that is why his arms had gone limp over his head and allowed his vest to be pulled off.

The sling that Grant mentioned was actually already being worn by the victim. It was sun-bleached and I never saw it initially or it could have been something I could have pulled up on. I was struggling to try to pry his head and upper body up and then reverting to trying to get his leg out. I was trying everything I could think of but being by myself, the only place I could doanything from was from this moss-covered rock which just gave me no angle of attack. If I was on top of the pin rock, the distance was too great to reach the victim without a belay.

After five minutes of this futility, the other gentleman that Grant described being from Search and Rescue got to the pin rock and was able to climb up on it. He was the one who discovered the sling as I was now able to belay him from the top of the pin rock as he reached down to the victim. We then secured a rope to the sling and I belayed with the assistance of another kayaker, now also on top of the pin rock while the Search and Rescue individual tried to get the victim's head far enough out of the water to give him some breaths. It was impossible. The hydraulics were too strong to get him far enough out of the water to administer breaths.

We finally resorted to the three of us giving it everything we had to change the angle of the rope and pull upstream and managed to get his leg un-entrapped and were able to pull him on top of the pin rock. The search and rescue individual administered about fifteen minutes or more of non-stop cpr. We then lowered the victim into a paddle raft which had been lined down to the downstream side of the pin rock and were able to ferry the victim to the river left bank. More cpr ensued until and oar boat was brought to the scene and the victim was ferried to the pullout area on the other side.

From the way the victim was entrapped, my theory is he was facing upstream, head-down, swimming vigorously while being swept backwards, downriver, between the two pin rocks. This would have placed his right foot and leg into the crack created by the flake and the right side of the left-most pin rock. With his right foot and lower leg trapped, the hydraulics are so strong here, it would have swept him completely over onto his back with his foot still jammed. That could explain how his head was downstream and he was facing up when I got to him.

I am playing this through my head continuously trying to think of other things I could have done. I never saw the sling. The gentleman from search and rescue found it. God bless that man. I recognize him from years at the Payettes and he was very professional and on top of the situation. I learned from him how little I know about a rescue incident like that. He is to be commended for his efforts. And thanks to my other kayaker friends who helped.Most of all, God bless Dean's family in this time of deep sorrow. He was doing something he loved and it sounds like his love for the outdoors touched countless people.


Sunday July 2, 2007 apx. 12:00. South Fork Payette, Staircase Rapid. A two boat trip with a saftey boater. the first boat flipped and the second boat high sided on a rock. The safety boater, went after the downstream swimmers (which is protocol). The victim, the guide, Dean Farburn, came out of the second boat. He was flushed over the split rock on the left below the whale rocks, it forms a large mid-river eddy. His foot became wedged. he was trapped in full current. Dean was an experienced professional guide and experienced river runner from Garden Valley. He worked as a Teacher.

A group of local kayakers coming down the south fork came upon the accident. A person on shore flagged them over. There were already ropes in the water in some sort of rescue effort. How much time had passed is unclear. I was told 10 minutes. Dave Olsen from Ketchum got out to the victim got a sling around his chest and a rope to the sling and were able to partially hold the victim out of the water, but could not free him. Another boater, from Garden Valley search and Rescue, got in the water and was able to support the victim, then climb onto the rock and muscled the victim's leg out of whatever was holding him. There was no visable head injury and no blood.

They started cpr. An AED was brought over and the victim shocked. They then sent the GV search and rescue oar boat across. brought the victim over to the staircase parking lot. this was at 12:44. It was an accident. And we can all speculate as to how it could have gone this way or that. but it is just speculation and won't bring him back. The one thing we can all learn is how easy it is for events to cascade upon one another and turn deadly.


Drowning in Staircase. I want to be careful to say that what I am about to write is what I believe to be true based upon what I've been told from people that were on the scene during and shortly after the accident. I also want to serve as an example to others that might post some of their own speculations, please be careful. A guide from IWU (Idaho Whitewater Unlimited) was working a whitewater trip and was in the top of Staircase rapids where the raft LIKELY made contact with rocks and the guide (and MAYBE some customers) fell from the raft and were swimming. I THINK this happened in the top part of the rapid, around or shortly after the whale rocks. From what I've heard the guide swam over either the right or left side of one of the main pin rocks. To my knowledge this happened at the furthest left large boulder immediately below the whale rocks. I BELIEVE that he hadn't swam very far and was still in the top part of the rapid (which I've heard called the maze) when his foot was pinned (foot entrapment) and he was held under water. Although I THINK I was told there was another raft on the commercial trip, people were unable to access him for over 10 minutes.

I must say that I have no doubt that everyone involved did their best at the time. I also have no doubt that they might think they could have done something more. But I want to place no blame on anyone. I don't think the guide made a conscious decision to stand up in the river. I think that he might have put his body vertically in an attempt to get towards the raft. Either way, I have no doubt that the guide used his best judgement at the time and this is a huge freak accident. I also have no doubt that this could happen to anybody. I don't know for sure what happened, I wasn't there. I heard a guy talking that claimed to have been there say he saw a wicked head injury, blood everywhere, that sort of thing. I don't believe this to be true.

I also think that I was told that this happened to Dean, an "older" guide for IWU. May we keep his family, his co-workers down at Idaho Whitewater Unlimited, his colleagues on the river, and the guests that got to enjoy his personality on the river for over an hour before this happened. This is very tragic and it happened to somebody that was experienced. It happened to him in his element, in doing something he does as a job nearly everyday of the summer. It's also worth noting that whitewater sports have inherent risks. When going with a commercial outfitter down the South Fork and through Staircase Rapids, you can expect the guides to be highly trained professionals that take every precaution to minimize the risks on the river. I wanted us all to remember Dean and also see if we can start a bit of careful discussion regarding this. Does anybody have anything else to contribute to this story? Am I missing something or are my facts incorrect? Input to this thread has some value.

Micah Kneidl,

I consider myself a professional in commercial whitewater rafting on the South Fork of the

Payette.River guide who drowned Sunday on Payette identified
Patrick Orr - Idaho Statesman
Edition Date: 07/02/07

A 45-year-old river guide drowned Sunday afternoon on the South Fork of the Payette River when his foot got stuck in a rock after the raft he was in capsized, according to Boise County Sheriff's reports. Dean Fairburn, 45, of Garden Valley, died as a result of drowning Sunday afternoon, according to Boise County Coroner reports.

The accident happened about 12:30 p.m. on the Staircase rapids, according to reports. Fairburn and his passengers were thrown in the water when their raft hit a rock in the rapids. Everyone else in the raft made it to the shore but Fairburn, according to reports. Emergency crews got Fairburn out of the water and tried to resuscitate the man at the scene, but were unsuccessful, according to reports. Fairburn was pronounced dead at the scene.


Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!