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Accident Description

Waterville Man Dies Whitewater Rafting On Kennebec

Posted By: Mike Webster

INDIAN STREAM TOWNSHIP (AP) -- A Waterville man has died after a raft flipped over while whitewater rafting on the Kennebec River in northern Maine. Maine Warden Service Sgt. Scott Thrasher said a raft was carrying six people and a guide when it turned over in a river rapid at about 11 a.m. Thursday in Indian Stream Township. Thrasher said 58-year-old Thomas McDermott was unresponsive when he was pulled back into the raft. He was later pronounced dead. The incident is under investigation, and the medical examiner's office has been called in to determine the cause of death. (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) WATERVILLE

Fault not found with rafting company

BY JOEL ELLIOTT Staff Writer Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 08/23/2008

WATERVILLE -- Still grieving the loss of Thomas E. McDermott, who on Thursday died in a rafting accident, his family decided to go forward with the wedding of his daughter, Erin McDermott. Erin McDermott today will marry Zachary Lord in a China ceremony, her mother, Dayle McDermott, confirmed Friday. "That's what Tom's wishes would have been," said Dayle McDermott, Thomas E. McDermott's widow. She declined to comment further.

Thomas McDermott, 58, was a medical doctor who worked at Kennebec Medical Associates at Railroad Square. He died of cardiac arrest due to exposure to cold water Thursday morning after a raft flipped him into rapids on the Kennebec River. He was in a group of six people, accompanied by a North Country Rivers guide. McDermott's future son-in-law was among them, Maine Warden Steve Allarie said. Allarie works as a specialist in the state's whitewater-boating program.

The 15-foot raft entered a stretch of the northern Kennebec known as the Rock Garden in Indian Stream Township, struck a log and flipped upside down around 11 a.m. Thursday, sending its occupants into the water. The guide, Brian Tarpy of Yarmouth, scrambled to save them. "He was very quick in responding," Allarie said of Tarpy. "He pulled in five ... but the sixth victim (McDermott) wasn't visible initially." Allarie said that most of the time, raft guides skirt around the Rock Garden, so named because of a large number of rocks that are close to the surface of the shallow water. Higher water levels made this portion more accessible. A hydraulic, or a place where the flowing water creates suction by flowing back on itself, swirls somewhere in the Rock Garden, and is powerful enough to flip a raft. But the fact that the waters were flowing at 7,500 cubic feet per second, rather than the more typical 4,800, meant the hydraulic was less, not more, dangerous, Allarie said.

Kennebec Water Power Company, which is partly owned by FPL Energy, controls water flow through the river with a dam below Moosehead Lake. Water flow was higher than normal due to increased rainfall over the summer, FPL Energy spokesman Al Wiley said. "We have an awful lot of water in those storage reservoirs -- the water levels are a lot higher than they would normally be this time of year," he said. "But certainly, the water flows are within the levels in which the rafting companies do their business."

Tarpy, the guide, is in his first season of guiding, but had completed the proper training. He holds both Level 1 and Level 2 whitewater certification, which means he is qualified to guide rafts on any river in the state, Allarie said. There is no evidence that either the guide or the rafting company was at fault, Allarie added. "I don't have any problem with (North Country Rivers) concerning safety," he said. "They are always doing what they are supposed to be doing."

When Tarpy had pulled the fifth person from the water onto the raft, which was floating upside down at that point, he, the raft's occupants and other guides scanned the water for McDermott, Allarie said. They saw him floating downstream, buoyed by his personal-flotation device. He was unresponsive when a kayaker tried to help. A guide in another North Country Rivers raft retrieved McDermott from the water in a part of the river known as Pocket Eddy, several hundreds yards downstream from the point of the upset, but cardiopulmonary resuscitation failed to revive him. Based on reports from witnesses, Allarie estimated McDermott was pulled from the water within four minutes of the raft capsizing.

McDermott's death was an anomaly when put into perspective of the history of whitewater rafting, Allarie said. With 69,000 rafters going down Maine rivers each year, this was only the second rafting death in Maine this year, he said. Last year, no one died in rafting accidents, he said. "It's a safe industry," Allarie said. "We have very high standards for our Maine whitewater guides."

Joel Elliott -- 861-9252