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Accident Description


Will Hartman Fatality

By Eric Johnson

On October 27th, 2016 seven expert kayakers were on a self-supported Class IV-V kayak trip down  the Umngi River in the state of Meghalaya, in NE India. The rapids are complex, winding between giant boulders in a deep and remote jungle canyon. Sieves were everywhere, but very little wood was present. It was probably scoured away by  massive monsoon flooding. The first full decent was made the week before and a member of that group was in the leading.

On the third day at 7:45 am, after less than a mile of paddling, they came to a six-foot ledge about pushing directly into a second ledge/wave-hole. The line was down the center of both features even though there was room for lines on the left and right. Two paddlers ran the center line successfully. Will Hartman, a very experienced expedition paddler, ran third.  After he landed the first ledge the water pushed him into the far right slot. This drop was roughly 5 feet tall with a large old growth log hidden at the bottom, just below the water level. Will and his boat were almost completely submerged between the log and a large pourover. The log was directly over his cockpit and legs, trapping him in his kayak. A dry bag between his legs complicated things further

The group saw Will enter the slot behind a boulder but did not see him exit. They landed on the right and were on the scene within seconds. They threw  ropes from above, sides and below. Will grabbed one of these ropes but couldn't hold on. A live bait rescuer grabbed Will's life jacket and hand and pulled hard, without success. He remained conscious for 4-6 minutes.

The live bait rescuer attempted to clip onto Will's life jacket several times without success. Eventually Will's lifejacket and helmet were stripped from his body by the force of the water leaving only the submerged kayak to clip onto. The live bait rescuer was able to clip into the boat on the second try, but the current was too strong to release the boat, even with  a Z-drag.  Another 3-4 minutes passed until a rope was slung around Will's body and pulled him out of the  boat and onto shore. Will was unconscious. We began  CPR  and continued for 20-25 minutes. But by 8:30 it was obvious at that he was beyond help.

The canyon was roughly 4000 ft down from the roads and too dense and steep for them to exit without help.  One of our team members with extensive experience in India contacted rescue services via a Delorme spot transmitter. A helicopter Rescue was not an option; the best choice was to have villagers with local terrain knowledge come for us. A team of 10 locals set out roughly an hour after the accident, arriving the following morning around 10:30am. We then spent the rest of the day extracting all of our gear and Will's body form the jungle with the help of 15 locals and other kayakers.

We later learned that two other paddlers ran the same slot Will did on the previous decent. It's likely that variations in boat design or water levels made the log less dangerous. the situation was desperate. The group's response would be hard to improve on; they had the gear and skills and responded quickly, taking substantial risks to rescue Will.

 

On October 27th seven expert kayakers were on a self-supported Class IV-V kayak trip down the Umngi River in NE India. The rapids were complex, winding between giant boulders in a deep and remote jungle canyon. Sieves were everywhere, but very little wood was present. According to a report written by Erik Johnson they came to a series of 5-6' ledges early on the third day. Two paddlers ran the center line successfully. Will Hartman, a very experienced expedition paddler, ran third.  After he landed the first ledge he was pushed into the far right slot on the second. There was a large old growth log hidden at the bottom, just below the water level.

His group saw him enter the slot but did not see him exit. They landed on river right and were on the scene in seconds. Mr. Hartman's body and boat were almost completely submerged; the log was directly over his cockpit, trapping him. A dry bag between his legs complicated matters. The group threw ropes; Mr. Hartman grabbed one, but couldn't hold on. Others grabbed his PFD and his wrist, but could not pull him free. A live bait rescuer tried to clip into his life jacket but soon Mr. Hartman's PFD and helmet were pulled off by the rushing water.  A second live bait rescuer then clipped into the stern of the kayak, but even a Z-drag did not release the boat. Finally a rope slung around Mr. Hartman's body was used to pull him free.  He was unconscious. The group began  CPR, but he was beyond their help. They called for help with a spot transmitter and the next day local villagers helped them evacuate the canyon.

Eric Johnson noted that two other paddlers ran the same slot Mr. Hartman did on a previous decent. It's likely that variations in boat design or water levels made the log less dangerous. The situation was desperate, and the group's response would be hard to improve on. They had the gear and skills and responded quickly, taking substantial risks to effect a rescue.

 

Randolph man dies kayaking in India -

Berlin, NH Daily Sun

Will Hartman, 33, drowned Sunday while kayaking in a remote, mountainous region in northern India. Most recently a resident of White Salmon, Washington, Hartman was a life-long extreme kayaker and traveled the world in search of white water. He is the son of Lynn Hunt and Steve Hartman, both of Randolph, and the brother of Reid Hartman, of Gorham. He is a graduate of Gorham High School and St. Lawrence University.

Hartman was kayaking on the Ummig River, in the town of Mawsynram in Meghalaya state. He was part of a seven-person kayaking group. It is the monsoon season in that part of India and because of the remoteness and rugged terrain it is expected to take at least a day to get his body to a hospital. Local arrangements will be announced in his obituary in Thursday’s paper.Hartman spent his adult life as a river guide in Norway during the summers and as a carpenter in the winters out West.

His passion, however, was kayaking. Mark Guerringue, his uncle and publisher of the Sun, said he lived the adventurous life that most of us can only dream nor have the courage to do. “ He had the most amazing stories,” said Guerringue. “Apart from telling us about going over 60-foot waterfalls in a five foot kayak, he’d have these hair-raising adventures of being chased by bandits in remote Mexico and rebels in Africa. He is a smart, handsome, amazing young man and it is so sad.”