Accident Database

Report ID# 2855

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Father and son paddled into the "tubes",abandoned stone arch sluice gates, at the Pratt Dam on the blackstone River in Cumberland RI. Dam is now part of bikepath and fairly accessible. Had run previously in the summer. From photo water looks high compared to my runs years ago and recent bike rides over the dam

Boy dies in canoe accident Pawtucket Times

Monday, 10 November 2008


CUMBERLAND — A 17-year-old boy died in a Blackstone River accident yesterday afternoon while canoeing with his father in the swiftly moving waters running through Pratt Dam. The canoe is believed to have struck a small log jam at the opening of several large flow tubes carrying the river’s waters under the old railroad crossing structure and overturned. The teen went into the second closest flow tube to the shore and became trapped inside, possibly due to snagging on debris inside or gear from the canoe, according to fire officials.

The father went to the third tube from the shore and exited downstream where he was able to make it to the riverbank. Firefighters reported the pair had lifejackets but could not say how they factored into the accident Sunday evening.

The police department reported receiving a 911 call at 12:21 p.m. stating a male subject was trapped in the water on the river. Police, Fire and Rescue personnel from Cumberland and surrounding communities responded, located the father and learned the teen was still under the old railroad trestle now used to carry the Blackstone River Bikeway from the Lincoln side of the River to its Cumberland route behind the Stop &Shop Plaza off Mendon Road. The bridge crosses a man-made narrowing of the river that speeds its flow through the tube channels and makes it dangerous.

The pair had put in at Albion, according to officials, and ran down river toward the Valley Falls section on what was a perfect, sunny fall day. Valley Falls Fire Chief Brian Jackvony said the canoeists apparently entered the swift moving section of river and ran against the trees and wood debris partially blocking the tube openings. Recent rains may have raised the level of the river in the area but the narrowing also generates turbulence, he said. “We attempted to bring a boat up the river but couldn’t get to the boy because of the force of the river,” Jackvony said.

After the attempts to get to the submerged youth failed, Jackvony said rescue crews determined the safest recovery option would to close off the upstream opening the tube allowing rescue divers to work their way up from downstream. A crane had to be summoned to the location to lower the plate into place and the boy was finally removed around 4 p.m., he said. The victim was taken to the state Medical Examiners Office after being pronounced dead at the scene. The father was transported to Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket for observation, he said.

While the boy’s removal from the tube took several hours, Jackvony said firefighters had to use caution in retrieving him to avoid injury to others. “Once we determine it is a recovery, we need to proceed slowly and methodically in a safe manner so that we don’t get anyone else injured,” he said. Assisting the Valley Falls Fire Department at the scene were Cumberland Hill Units including that department’s No.4 inflatable boat. Rescue personnel from surrounding communities also went to the location to assist in the recovery effort, police and fire officials said.

Cumberland Police Lt. Joseph Louro said the accident remained under investigation Sunday and more information would be available from the department on Monday. The names of those involved were being withheld Sunday night while family members were being contacted, he said. 


Teen Killed In Blackstone River Canoe Accident


CUMBERLAND, RI (WBZ) Rescue teams have pulled the body of a 17-year-old out of the Blackstone River in Cumberland, Rhode Island. The teen was on a canoe trip with his father. According to police the teen's canoe tipped over when he tried to go through a rough area of the river. The water was very turbulent and several logs were seen floating in the water. The father was able to make it out of the river's rough section OK, but search teams spent hours looking for the teen. The 17-year-old's body was found later Sunday afternoon.


(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


‘Shooting the tubes’ becomes tragic adventure

11:34 AM EST on Tuesday, November 11, 2008

By Mark Reynolds

Journal Staff Writer

The waters of the Blackstone River rush through the Pratt Dam in Cumberland where William S. King IV died.

The Providence Journal

Bob Breidenbach


CUMBERLAND — It was another fine fall day along the swift-running Blackstone River and 17-year-old William S. King IV was canoeing again with his father. The elder King always felt lucky that his son’s idea of a good time was just like his — and it didn’t involve drinking or drugs.

The two relished the real things that New England has to offer on the weekend: Mountain snowboard trails laden with moguls. Rock concerts in Boston. Cruising the Blackstone on a crisp morning, just a few hours before the Patriots kickoff.


They liked challenges, too, which is why the young man and his father decided to “shoot the tubes” — canoe through the stone archways at the Pratt Dam. The adventure ended disastrously Sunday when their canoe overturned on the north side of the dam. The elder King shot through one of the archways, but his son became entangled with the canoe and debris inside an adjacent tube and didn’t make it.


“I loved that boy with all my heart,” his father, William S. King III, said yesterday. “I know he had a smile on his face the last time I saw him.” Twenty-four hours later, the young man’s father wanted to pay tribute to his son, a Cumberland High School graduate and a student at the Community College of Rhode Island. “He was a good kid who despised drugs and alcohol,” King said. “He loved life.”


THE TEEN’S FATHER and others in Rhode Island’s paddling community spoke of the dangers of the tubes at Pratt Dam. “There’s no room for error,” said King.


He and his son launched their canoe at Albion Falls around 10 Sunday morning. They planned to paddle downstream, more than just a few miles, to a landing near Cumberland Town Hall and Heritage Park, which is where they had parked a second vehicle. The river was running strong, after recent rain, but it wasn’t close to high water.


In its online Blackstone River and Canal Guide, the National Park Service cautions that paddling through the arches at Pratt Dam is not recommended for anyone. Instead, it says, paddlers should portage around the area. An online map marks the site with "!CAUTION!" However, canoeing through the arches isn’t banned. People do it. The Kings had done it in June. The problem is that it’s impossible to know what is inside the tube. A branch, for example, can block the passageway, creating a deadly trap.


“You don’t know,” said Joseph M. Sherlock, who heads up a safety and education subcommittee for the Rhode Island Canoe/Kayak Association. Sherlock has friends who shoot the tubes. He admits he’s felt plenty of temptation to do it himself. Doing the safer thing, he acknowledged — landing upstream of the dam, hauling the canoe or kayak out and putting in below the dam — is a lot of work. Sherlock said he’s always opted for the detour, or portage, and he would have done the same thing yesterday. He checked out the situation from the bike path directly above the arches. “From what I saw, those tubes are running hard,” he said. “The tubes are dangerous,” he added. “They really probably shouldn’t be canoed.”


Jan Reitsma, executive director of the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, said the park service does not own heritage areas so it cannot issue bans the way it sometimes does in national parks. Sherlock said some dams on the river are marked with buoys to alert canoeists or kayakers. The Pratt Dam is not, they said. King said he doesn’t think he and his son would have heeded a warning based on what they knew when they approached the dam on Sunday. THEY HAD DONE it before. The conditions seemed safe.


He recalls the expert trails they had encountered snowboarding in the mountains — the ones marked with double black diamonds.“When we see a black diamond trail, we take it,” he said. “We don’t go flying down it, but we take it. It’s the adventure.”


On Sunday, as the dam approached, the current turned the canoe, he said. The boat slammed into the stone dam structure broadside. The river rushed against it and turned it over, he said. He was immediately swept through one of the five archways. The canoe and his son were pulled into another passage that was cluttered with branches. The teen was tethered to the craft by a 4-foot mooring line that had become tangled around his ankle. The canoe torpedoed into the debris and the current pushed it down far enough to pull the young man under the surface.


King swam to shore and raced back to the dam. He said he did everything he could. Rescuers, including local firefighters, gave it their best effort, too, he said. The rescue crews went to the site at 12:21 p.m. Several boats were put into the river, but their outboard engines didn’t have enough power to overcome the current, according to Valley Falls Fire Chief Brian Jackvony.

Rescuers also tried to reach the young man by dangling from the end of a fire ladder, he said.

Eventually, a crane was brought in to drop a steel plate over one end of the archway and stanch the flow of water. The young man’s body was recovered late in the afternoon, Jackvony said.

“It’s a very unfortunate, tragic situation,” he said. “If that rope wasn’t entangled around him, I’m sure he would have come out of here.”


—With staff reports from Michael P. McKinney and Maria Armental


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