Accident Database

Report ID# 254

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • Solo Paddling

Accident Description


SUMMARY: Robert Bauchspies, 23, drowned after attempting to run a low head dam on Bushkill Creek near Easton, Pennsylvania on March 23, 1992.

DESCRIPTION: Bushkill Creek is in Palmer Township ; it is not to be confused with the Big Bushkill, a popular run further north. Gertler's Keystone Canoeing describes it as a Class II run broken by no less than ten dams. The Penn Pump Park dam is the largest dam on the creek, with a 5' drop and a nasty hydraulic at the bottom. It is not the sort of thing an experienced paddler would try.

Bauchspies had been boating for about two years. He was dressed in a full kayaking outfit including wetsuit, PFD, and helmet. He had read a great deal about kayaking, learned to roll, and practiced it on lakes in the summer. He had joined a local kayak club and signed up for a class, but didn't go because he thought it wouldn't be challenging enough. He had been checking water levels on the creek for weeks, watching it become swollen with rain and snowmelt. Water temperature was 43°. Family members said that this was the only dam on the creek he had not run, and that he regarded this as a challenge.

Witnesses saw Bauchspies paddling furiously towards the lip of the dam. He was caught in the hydraulic below, and recirculated in the hydraulic for several minutes calling for help. Bystanders tried to reach him with a ladder and an extension cord but could not. Firefighters from Forks Township , local rescue squads, and Pennsylvania Water Rescue of Easton responded within minutes. They attempted to reach him first with lines, later with grappling hooks. 20 minutes later Bauchspies floated free, but his boat remained caught. Rescuers dragged him to shore below, and were able to snag the kayak about a half hour later. Although there was a log in the hydraulic and his helmet was badly scarred, the coroner determined that the cause of death was drowning.

SOURCE: Bethlehem Express-Times; Allentown Morning Call (Via Bert Minnerly and Mary Shaney); AMC Paddle Splashes (Joe Pilka); Pa Fish Commission accident summary

ANALYSIS: The newspapers described Bauchspies as a "thrillseeker" seeking adrenaline highs, and treated the accident as the premature end to an adventurous life. Experienced boaters see the tale of someone who was ignorant and reckless. He proved that the absence of good judgement can kill you.

Despite the availability of instruction, the victim chose not to take advantage of it. Despite the known danger of dams and the extensive descriptions of these "drowning machines" in whitewater literature, he attempted the run anyway. Despite the fact that other paddlers lived in the area, he ran alone. There was no one to set up safety lines below the dam which might have helped him if he got caught.

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