Accident Database

Report ID# 29

  • Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water

Accident Description

On March 15, 1986 two very experienced paddlers from Washington made a run down the North River, a small tributary of the Shenandoah that can only be paddled when the water is high. At 5:00 PM, after 5 hours on the water, the group reached a left-hand bend around a local landmark, Chimney Rocks. Here the river broke into two channels around a flooded, tree covered island. The right channel was blocked by a fallen tree; the left channel was open. Both paddlers drifted around the bend, moving left. There were no rapids, just a very swift, powerful current.

Chris Reuss wasn't moving quite fast enough. He ran into some trees and was pinned in an upright position at mid-stream. One tree was two feet behind the cockpit; the other was across his legs just above the knees. The deck of his kayak, a Prijon T-Slalom, collapsed, holding him in place. A few minutes later the boat rolled downstream, forcing Chris to support himself by reaching back to one of the trees. Icy water was flowing over his body, making the situation desperate.

His partner paddled upstream and tried to ferry into position. As he did sor he was swept into a strainer. He exited his boat which (along with his rope and other rescue gear) was carried away by the current and pinned some distance downstream. Realizing that his chances of freeing Chris by himself were poor, Eric ran to a nearby farmhouse and called the Bridgewater Rescue Squad. Then, accompanied by three teenaged boys, he returned to the river. This was roughly 50 minutes after the initial pin.

The situation had deteriorated badly. Water flowed over the entire length of the boat, and Chris, despite his drysuit, was greatly weakened by the cold. His partner entered the water and reached Chris on his second try. He stood in the water and supported Chris, who was now semi-conscious. He tried to free the boat but could not.

The Bridgewater Rescue Squad arrived 20 minutes later. This unit had a number of people trained in swiftwater rescue and knew what they were doing. A rope was tied to the bow of the pinned boat, but they were unable to move it. In fact, it took several hours to get Chris out of the water. Divers eventually replaced his partner in the water, but Chris lost consciousness and died soon after their arrival.

Source: Coy Lay, in the CCA Cruiser

The risks connected with two-boat parties underlie every aspect of this tragedy. It placed a lot of pressure on his partner, who through unfortunate circumstances lost his boat and rescue gear. There was no other backup, and given the seriousness of the pin even three or four other people might not have been enough to pull the boat free.

Certainly Chris might have escaped by bailing out immediately, before  the deck collapsed. A tough call!!

His parner carried a small folding saw which might have been used to cut off the stern of the boat and release it . This is a situation where this tactic might have been a useful .

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