Accident Database

Report ID# 2423

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

I finally was able to contact a police officer who was at the scene of this drowning last March 6. It is Detective Guy Redinger of the Edwardsville, Kansas Police Department. It really wasn’t their jurisdiction, but they responded to help. It was in the jurisdiction of the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, but they refused to respond because they said they don’t respond to drownings. The KCK police chief later stated that yes, his officers should have responded.

So, the best I can tell there was no official police report filed in any city located near the drowning. What Detective Redinger told me was this: 1) The victim had just been given the kayaks one week before the drowning. Someone had bought them and decided they didn’t like them and gave them to the drowning victim, Ladd Fish, and his friend. 2) The victim was not wearing a PFD. 3) I do not believe they were wearing helmets or spray skirts, but I do not have that confirmed. These were not whitewater kayaks, but recreational kayaks with large open cockpits. I personally saw video of the recovered kayak and that was my observation while looking at the video. 4) The victim was not a strong swimmer. 5) The victim was wearing street clothes with maybe some type of nylon layer on top. 6) The victim and his friend went to the river to float down the river. 7) They had put in a mile or more upstream at the 9th and Woodend Road boat ramp in Edwardsville. This is a new boat ramp access area. 8) The victim and his friend had floated downstream and had gotten wet during the paddle either from splashing or maybe a prior mishap. 9) The two paddlers had taken out of the river and started a fire to get warm. The air temperature was the in low 50’s and that was the warmest it had been for several weeks. So the water temperature was probably still in the 40’s. The smoke from the fire attracted attention and the Fire Department was called. There was a road access at that spot so the victims could have taken out there if they had chosen to do so. This is near the spot of the weir dam and construction site of the new cofferdam being installed. It is just downstream of the access area called Nelson Island. 10) The victim and his friend carried around the weir dam and put in just below this structure. 11) The paddlers got back in their kayak and shortly tipped over in this water. This water is still very turbulent but is not a hydraulic like a straight faced dam would create. I believe just the turbulence of the eddies and jets of water coming off the tailings of the weir dam created enough problems that the paddlers could not control their boat in this type of water, maybe Class II or III at this spot. 12) The one guy was able to get back to dry land. The victim was described as resurfacing for a moment then disappearing under water. 13) The victim was found over a week later in almost the same spot he went down.

Detective Redinger said an underwater fish finder was used to locate the body. Detective Redinger believed the weight of the victims clothing held him down. 14) If the paddlers would have continued downstream without incident, the next legal boat access area would be 8-10 miles downstream in Kansas City, Kansas. That would have been a long paddle in Class I moving water, while they were wet and cold, with the air temperature in the low 50’s. 15) I never asked Detective Redinger if he believed alcohol was involved. If you need this information, let me know. 16) Detective Redinger said the autopsy reported stated the victim died of drowning. The information Detective Redinger gave me sounds very much like the information the Kansas City Star reported and what I heard on the television newscasts.

In my original report to you Charlie, I had assumed the victim and his friend had run the dam sluice, so I was wrong on that point and I apologize for my assumption. I plan to contact the Edwardsville, Kansas City Hall and hope to approach them about installing warning signs at their new boat ramp about the hazard downstream and other safety information. Detective Redinger said he believed the City Manager would be very receptive to the efforts of the local paddling community in trying to prevent future mishaps. I will pursue this with Edwardsville, but unfortunately there are several other legal access points and different municipal entities to be dealt with. But having one contact and starting point is a step in the right direction. Some people don’t believe this area should be rated a Class IV. I have heard of open canoes with just inner tubes as flotation running the sluice without injuring the inhabitants but of course filling up with water. I suspect you can just run straight down the middle and possibly make it, but the local experienced kayaker who fractured his skull was trying to make an eddy midway down. His forehead struck one of the irregularly shaped and sharps rocks. A paddler in our club, who used to teach professionally for Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center in Colorado, does not encourage people to run the dam sluice because of the hidden dangers. This same paddler will go below the weir structure and play in the runoff from the sluice and water seeping between the weir rocks or flowing over the top which creates jets of water suitable for surfing, ferrying, playing, etc. I have never personally run the sluice of the dam because of the hazards and the warning from the former professional paddler. I have run some pretty difficult stuff in my open canoe and stuff probably a lot harder and more dangerous, but I would be reluctant to reduce the rating of this area to a Class III. But with the new concrete cofferdam being built just upstream of the weir, I believe the danger hazard will be increased when the water gets high enough to flow over the top of the cement silos they are putting in the water. It will basically be a series of round pillars that will create upstream facing pourovers or the “frowns” if looking downstream. Of course, it won’t happen very often or at all water levels, but at certain water levels these hydraulics will form. Outside of the dams on the Kansas River, it can be classified as Class I moving water. Sorry if this is more information than you want. Please let me know if James Smith contacts you with any other information.  Kayaker disappears in Kansas River

As the sun set and the temperature dropped Tuesday, firefighters pulled in boats and called off rescue efforts for a father of five who disappeared in the Kansas River. Firefighters lingered at the scene, not quite ready to leave, even though it was clear that rescue operations were too dangerous with only moonlight. As they left, the search for Ladd Fish, 34, of Edwardsville turned from a rescue operation to a recovery effort.

The rescuers knew his family was watching their every move. “It’s very disheartening for everybody,” said Kansas City, Kan., fire Battalion Chief Kevin Shirley. “Our thoughts go out to the family.” Fish and a friend were taking advantage of the river for recreational purposes, Shirley said. The men were in choppy water about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday when a nearby construction crew spotted trouble. The workers watched as the men’s bright red kayaks overturned near Interstate 435 and Woodend Road. The construction workers phoned authorities. Fish’s friend reached the shore despite the chilly water. And Fish was spotted immediately after his kayak capsized. He appeared to be swimming to shore, but he disappeared just as quickly as he was spotted. No one saw him resurface. His empty kayak washed up about 150 yards downstream.

Rescue crews assembled from Kansas City, Kan., Shawnee and Edwardsville. As the hours wore on, firefighters held out hope that Fish had made it to a remote shoreline area and went somewhere to call for help. They released his name with the faint hope that he might have sought refuge somewhere. If he wasn’t out of the water, authorities conceded, it would be difficult for anyone to survive that long given the conditions. His friend was treated at the scene but was not taken to the hospital, authorities said.

The Star’s Mark Wiebe contributed to this report. To reach Dawn Bormann, call (816) 234-5992 or send e-mail to

Charlie: This spot is below the riff-raff dam where many local whitewater kayakers go to practice ferrying and surfing but rarely running the sluice of water created by the dam. The dam is not a straight faced structure, but curved and sloped down like an embankment. It is made of shot rock so it is extremely hazardous if you flip over and your face comes in contact with the sharp rocks. The sluice of water created by the dam is something like a Class IV, 100 yard run. Most experienced boaters do not run the sluice because of the chance of serious injury if you flip over or come out of your boat. However, some do attempt it and one experienced local kayaker did receive a skull fracture after flipping in the run. Right now the dam is in the process of being turned into a cofferdam, thus the reason for the construction workers nearby when this accident occurred.

Some one heard that the kayakers did not have on PFD’s. I have not confirmed that. Right now the air temperature around here is in the 50’s. I doubt the water temperature has even reached the half century mark. The pictures of the kayaks I saw in the print version of the paper looked like the large cockpit recreational kayaks you can buy at the discount stores, but I don’t know that for sure. From the information on the TV news tonight, it sounds like the kayakers were running the sluice. So far they have not recovered the body of the missing kayaker. With the dam structure being built, it is not known how friendly this dam will be when all is said and done.

As part of the agreement between local boaters and the Corp of Engineers to get this project completed, the developers are supposed to create a portage trail on river left for recreational boaters. The dam is used to create a deep pool for a water intake for a local water district.

 Site Description by Local Paddler: The KC Star newspaper article is very sketchy and the TV news casts were even less informative. I am just assuming the kayakers ran the sluice of the dam. There is a public access upstream at Nelson Island that I would assume these paddlers used and paddled down to the diversion dam. Most whitewater kayakers use an unofficial access and put in below the diversion dam to play in the tailings of the dam. This unofficial access is about a half mile hike in and over irregular terrain. My bet is that the kayakers in the story did not put in below the dam but put in above and paddled down to the dam. I don’t know if there are signs above the dam warning people to stay away. It is hard to realize how turbulent that water is from the far left river side or even from the highway bridge above the diversion dam. I have personally never paddled from above the dam down to it. I have only walked in and approached it from below. I don’t know if there are warning signs above the dam. But there are many other places upstream to access the Kansas River---very few are legal. Like I said, it is not a straight faced dam and the sluice has been successfully run before. It does not create a hydraulic at the base, but a regular run off, but very dynamic. We discourage running the sluice in the whitewater community because of the hazard of the “shot” rock, plus we don’t know what other hazards are lurking below the surface.

The Kansas River is one of the most polluted rivers in the country because of the agricultural runoff. It is brown and chalky and you cannot see the rocks that are less than one inch below the surface. This diversion dam is a big attraction for area fishermen who can actually camp on the sloped sides of the dam at lower water. You can see their lights out on it at night while they are fishing. The link on the AW website warns about staying away from the far river right side near the inlet for the Water District. The AW link also gives directions for paddling down to the dam and portaging over the dam on far river left. The information on the Kansas City Whitewater Club website states: However, the Kaw or Kansas River, playspot is created by "shot" rock and this creates hazards should your face or exposed portions of your body come into contact with the rocks during a roll or a swim. At certain levels, these spots can become dangerous. Also, the risk of submerged debris is always present. These playspots are not suitable for inexperienced boaters. At the present time, there is a proposal on the table to change the face of the dam and this new cofferdam could make playing near this feature a potentially lethal hydraulic.
That is probably the last information that will be published. They have stopped the search for the kayaker’s body. It will probably be found sometime this summer downstream.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!