Accident Database

Report ID# 2490

  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description


World Class Kayak Academy Loses Student on Gauley River


“He had dedicated his life to the sport. It has really shocked the community here.”

The whitewater community was dealt another heavy blow this past weekend when Max Lentz, a 17-year-old
from Missoula, Mont., drowned on West Virginia’s Gauley River. Lentz was attempting to run a “creeky” line
on the river right, two drops above Class V Sweet’s Falls, when he became trapped in a “crack” while inside
his kayak.

“I was talking with Billy Boylan, one of our coaches who was there,” says World Class Kayak Academy director Scott Doherty, “and he had a hard time understanding how it happened, how his boat got sucked into the crack at that particular angle in order to get lodged against the rock”

Seven students, assistant coach Dan West and Boylan tried desperately to free Lentz. They could reach him while he was struggling. Rescue attempts continued (including the use of a Z-drag) along with several additional kayakers lending assistance, for approximately 20 minutes before a commercial rafting trip arrived on the scene. The raft trip contacted authorities via radio. The body was recovered just after 5 p.m. after water levels began to recede.

The pure randomness of the accident is sending chills down the collective spines of river runners. “He wasn’t in a spot that was like, ‘I can’t believe he went there,’” Doherty says.

Lentz took fourth in juniors at the US Nationals two weeks ago in Maryland and won the overall title this summer at Missoula’s Thursday Night Throwdown freestyle series. “Max was at an age where he was improving a ton,” says KB Brown of Missoula’s Edge of the World outdoor shop. “He had dedicated his life to the sport. It has really shocked the community here.”

According to Brown and Doherty, Lentz was a very likeable kid, a fun student and talented paddler who thrived in tough whitewater. This was his second semester at World Class and he had been paddling at the Class V level for over a year.

Incidents like this are the worst nightmares for the heads of kayaking academies. Doherty was at a loss when asked about the future of his school. “We’re just focusing on this semester,” he says. “Our immediate goal is just to finish the semester. It’s all so sudden.”



Boatertalk Posts This accident happened at Little Z rapid in the river right line. Normal route for most rafts is starting river left and shooting quickly to the right to avoid a pin and then moving back left with the current that's pushing off the right bank. Therefore the name of the rapid. The right side line is workable for rafts and/or kayaks and considered a fun alternative as it has more rocks to maneuver around and a chute drop. However, something has changed in the right line. This weekend several rafts that normally run the right line had a slamming stall at the bottom of the drop with guides getting tossed forward and guests getting ejected. It is thought that there may be a log lodged in the drop now. I personally never run this line with my raft so all I know is from what I've heard from other guides. Little Z is above Fingernail Rock/Rapid and downstream of Keegan's Falls. Hope this helps out and makes people aware of a new danger in this drop. Please pass this on to anyone paddling these last days of Gauley season.

Going by the Emergency Response map that is used by the NPS, DNR, and hopefully the local Ambulance services, the rapid in question is Keegans Falls. Another distinquishing feature to add to the above description, is a large boulder, left of center and about halfway through the rapid, that has seen frequent raft pins over the years. A lot of rapid names on the Gauley vary according to the boater and outfitter, if a boater has ever worked in the local industry. I always knew this rapid as "Double D's Doule Dilemma" for a double gear boat pin from my old company back in the 80's. There is no Baby Sweets listed on that map. That is a local designation, unique to some guides/boaters. The response map author interviewed a lot of people, and tried to use the most common names across the board for many of the rapids. The response map has named all of the major drops of the Upper/Lower Gauley, and numbered much of the rest. It's available at the Cathedral Cafe for $5, and an invaluable tool if you ever come upon a bad scene that would require the assistance of NPS/EMS. This is what they will be using.

However, I was on a commercial trip in '02 where a dislocated shoulder patient waited for three hours for an ambulance evacuation because the responding service didn't have the map, and didn't know how to get to Sweet's Falls (a major and well known rapid. Hope this clears up some confusion. The drop was on the far right. There is little 4 or 5 foot drop, that looks harmless, but obviously isn’t. There is a crack in the rock and that is where he got stuck. It looked like his boat was sideways. That is all the first hand information I can give you. I ran the rapid, and took a good look when I went by. There were probably 10 or 15 people already helping and there was a North American River Runners trip that was also assisting. Supposedly he was already heads down for 30 minutes at this point. One of the people knew a guide that was tagging along with our trip and asked him to stop and help which he did. At the beginning the victim was supposedly able to hold himself up, then it went to someone else had to hold his head up, and then he went heads down. All attempts to get him out made the boat sink further into the crack. Seth Marder

Teen dies kayaking on W. Virginia river

By PERRY BACKUS of the Missoulian,


Missoula, MT:  A Missoula teen traveling with a kayaking prep school drowned Friday when his boat became trapped on a West Virginia river. Maxwell James Lentz was a student of the Missoula-based World Class Kayak Academy, a preparatory high school specializing in the training competitive kayakers. “He was a very, very experienced kayaker,” said Scott Doherty, the academy's director. “This was his second semester with us. He certainly had all the skill he needed to be on that river. It was well within his ability level.” The accident occurred on the Upper Gauley River in central West Virginia at about 1 p.m. The teen was kayaking with eight other students and a faculty member about a half-mile above a Class 5 rapid called Sweet's Falls. He was attempting to run a line right of a rapid when his boat became trapped in a crack, Doherty said. A crack is a narrow sieve between two rocks. Doherty said the crack was about three feet from shore and maybe 3 feet below the surface of the river. The teen's kayak became wedged in the crack at a 45-degree angle and the hydraulic pressure of the water trapped him in his boat. Within two minutes, Doherty said team members were attempting to rescue the teen. Other kayakers also tried to help, but those attempts failed due to the high water pressure, he said. “They tried for several hours using a variety of river rescue techniques to get him out of there,” Doherty said. “There were very experienced people there. They weren't able to do it.” The flow of the Upper Gauley River drops every day when an upstream dam closes its gates. When the river dropped, rescuers were able to recover the teen's body at about 5 p.m. Doherty said the route chosen by the teen was well known and others had been using it. “For whatever reason, his kayak got caught in that crack,” Doherty said. “He ended up in a bad spot at the wrong time.” The school will focus on providing its students and faculty the support needed to cope with the incident, Doherty said. Kayaker dies on Upper Gauley 17-year-old from Montana was ‘experienced’ By Amelia A. Pridemore Beckley, WV Register-Herald Reporter A 17-year-old student from a Montana kayaking prep school drowned Friday when his kayak got trapped under water on the Upper Gauley River, authorities said. The body of the Missoula, Mont., teen was taken to the Fayette County coroner’s office, Chief Ranger Gary Hartley of the New River Gorge National River said. His name will not be released because of his age. The incident was reported to the Fayette County Emergency Operations Center around 1:30 p.m. Friday. A group of about 10 students and an instructor from the Missoula-based World Class Kayak Academy were taking a trip on the Upper Gauley. The academy is a preparatory high school specializing in training competitive kayakers. The group was in a rapid about a half-mile above the Class V Sweet’s Falls rapid and the victim was trying to navigate water between two rocks, called a “chute,” Hartley said. His kayak then became entrapped and submerged near a rock known as Thumbnail Rock. Members of the group tried to rescue the boy, as did private boaters and commercial rafters, Hartley said. None was successful. Two of the boy’s classmates then traveled downstream to get help. They reached a commercial rafting group at Sweet’s Falls — where most kayaking and rafting trips on the Upper Gauley end — which summoned help with its radio-based communications system. Once the call was made, professional rescuers from the Oak Hill Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue Team, the Fayetteville Fire Department’s Vertical Rescue Team, Ansted Fire Department, Jan-Care Ambulance and National Park Service arrived on the scene and took over, Hartley said. After two hours, the boy’s body was recovered. The kayak was wedged and caught underneath a rock. “It was upside-down with him in it,” Hartley said. “It was pinned with him in it, under water.” Hartley said he understood all the students were “experienced” kayakers. They had been on a multi-state kayaking tour, and their instructor told authorities this was the school’s first fatality. — E-mail: Boatertalk Post I wish I knew the name of the rapid, but its right above that fingernail rock. The standard line is to start left of center and make your way to the right. The fatality was in the right most slot, where there is commonly run boof. The rock that people boof off of is apparently undercut, and that is where the boat was wedged. Needless to say I would say that people should stop running that line. I've seen people screw up the boof, which from what I hear is exactly what happened yesterday. It was definitely a very, very sad day. Cross marks the spot where teenage kayaker drowned by Zack Pettit Charlesto, WV Daily Mail A lone kayaker paddles down the Upper Gauley River Monday afternoon near the spot where 17-year-old Maxwell Lentz died Friday. Someone had placed a cross at the site where Lentz drowned over the weekend as his classmates tried to rescue him. The rapids were roaring Monday afternoon at Sweet’s Falls on the Upper Gauley River. The Montana teenager who died while kayaking near some of West Virginia's most famous whitewater rapids had just competed - and placed - in the national kayaking championships. Maxwell James Lentz, 17, also was very familiar with the Mountain State's waters. He was paddling down the Upper Gauley River early Friday afternoon with eight classmates and a faculty member when his kayak got lodged upside down between two rocks, said Scott Doherty, founder and director of Lentz's high school, the World Class Kayak Academy in Missoula, Mont. The academy is a college prep program specifically designed for student athletes. Those enrolled travel around the country and the world perfecting their skills on the water and competing in major kayaking events while studying to earn their high school degree. "Since he had been with us last fall, he had been down the (Gauley) river close to 20 times," Doherty said Monday. Lentz was a senior at the small academy, whose enrollment is just 14. He had planned on going to college, Doherty said. The group had been on a tour down the Gauley just a couple of weeks ago, at the end of September. It was a quick stop on their way to the U.S. Freestyle Kayaking National Championship in Maryland. There, Lentz placed fifth in the junior men's class. When the competition wrapped up, the students returned to West Virginia for a weeklong stay along the Gauley, Doherty said. On Friday, the group was about a half-mile above one of the most popular rapids, a 14-foot drop known as Sweet's Falls. "It was a couple rapids up from Sweet's Falls, near a place called Thumbnail Rock," Doherty said. "It is one of the bigger rapids in the river." Officials say Lentz's kayak got stuck in a crevice, pinning him under the water. Doherty said Lentz was a very experienced kayaker, but because of the water pressure and way he was stuck, there was nothing anybody could to get him out, he said. The group tried everything they could, and nothing worked, Doherty said. "The other team members were there and had a hold of him within a minute or two, and in another twenty minutes the commercial outfitters were there to help," Doherty said. "But no one could get him because of the water pressure." Sweet's Falls is recognized as one of the premier rapids in the river, reaching a Class IV or V, Doherty said. Beth Gill, marketing manager with ACE Adventure Center, said the Gauley River has rapids that range from Class II to Class V. Class VI rapids are the most dangerous, Gill said, and are not even supposed to be run. She said anything on the Gauley is a hazard, but quite "runable." "Thousands go down it every year. We wouldn't be running it if it wasn't safe," Gill said. "But it does have undercut rocks all through it, and if you get in the wrong spot it is dangerous." Lentz was not pulled out from under the water until about 5 p.m., Doherty said, when the water level in the river drops due to the nearby Summersville Dam being closed. The teen's death is the first one in the history of the World Class Kayak Academy, which opened in 2001. According to the school's Web site, the application process for students is rigorous. Because they travel around the world -- to places including New Zealand, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Africa, and China -- it "necessitates a certain level of maturity and integrity" among students selected to enroll. Those admitted must meet high academic standards and show they have a strong work ethic to keep up with schoolwork while they're on the road, admission guidelines say. Doherty said the academy takes great measures to make sure all the instructors are experienced on the water. According to the Web site, the staff includes 12 expert kayakers who also have degrees in subjects ranging from molecular biology and environmental studies to business and journalism. Lentz's death has rattled his classmates and teachers, Doherty said. "We weren't able to help him out," he said. Contact writer Zack Pettit at or 348-4850.

NPS Morning Report Young But Experienced Kayaker Dies On River By Gary Hartley, Chief Ranger October 11, 2007 An experienced kayaking student participating in a training program with the World Class Kayaking Academy of Missoula, Montana, drowned on the upper Gauley River on Friday, October 5th. The 17-year-old student from Missoula was paddling with a group of 11 kayakers from the school. At a point approximately a half mile above Sweets Falls, the group took an aggressive line through a series of rapids. The student attempted to navigate through a water chute by Thumbnail Rock, but his boat became jammed in the rocks and he was caught underwater. Members of the group, private boaters, and commercial raft guides at the scene tried to rescue the entrapped boy. Two classmates were sent downriver, where they met up with a commercial outfitter at Sweets Fall who had a radio. Volunteer rescue teams and National Park Service rangers responded to the remote section of the river and set up a recovery system utilizing a series ropes and pulleys. It took the professional rescuers over two hours to free the kayak and recover the boy’s body, which was then transported by raft downriver to an ambulance and turned over to the county medical examiner. The World Class Kayak Academy is a preparatory high school for studentsstriving to become competitive kayakers. They were on a tour of Eastern rivers, including the upper Youghiogheny River in Maryland and Green River in North Carolina. The class is scheduled to paddle the Zambia and other rivers in Africa this fall. The upper Gauley River is rated class 4-5+ and is known as one of the top ten whitewater rivers in the world. A follow-up investigation is being completed by rangers in cooperation with West Virginia Department of Natural Resources officers.

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