Accident Database

Report ID# 2947

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  • Foot Entrapment
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Accident Description

Foot entrapment at Troublemaker

Posted by: "fcpnorman" 

Sun Aug 24, 2008 8:46 am (PDT)

Troublemaker is a class 3 + ledge drop on the South Fork of the American river just outside Placerville. This is one of those rapids that gets easier as the flows increase. At the low summer release flows, there are many opportunities for a foot entrapment. This group of rocks is well downstream from the rapid, and the child is lucky someone saw him. 

The victim was pinned by his ankle on a cluster of barely submerged rocks midstream river right about a hundred yards below the main rapid. I had just come through troublemaker in my kayak when I saw a young boy on some rocks midstream and as I paddle over to tell find out what was going on I saw a man on the rocks river right pointing at the water and then I saw the victim. His legs were upstream of his body and he kept trying to sit up but the current kept pushing him back down underwater. The eddy just below him was pretty turbulent and just upstream of another rock cluster and I would have had to paddle just to hold position so I eddied out river right, and climbed back upstream to some rocks about 15 feet from the victim. I waved until the commercial photographer upstream noticed and signaled him to call 911.

Fortunately the victim was till conscious and I threw him my rope and then was able to pull his head and chest up out of the water.Two other guys now joined me from river right and helped with the rope.

I knew it was just a matter of time until the victim tired and dropped the rope so I opted to swim. I washed down to him but had a hard time holding onto the rocks while trying to pull him freeat the same time. I could feel his ankle pinned down underwater and his foot was somewhat inverted. While I was trying to pull him free the current washed me off downstream. I swam in, climbed back up and swam out to him again. This time I reached down underwater with both hands and tried to use the force of the current pushing down on us to pry his foot loose but that didn't work either and I was washed downstream again. By the time i got back for swim number three, one of the guys holding the rope had jumped in. He wisely got into the slacker water behind the victim and was able to pull himself up behind and help keep the victims head and chest clear of the water. This was clearly the right move and this guy deserves a lot of credit.

This had bought us some time so I jumped back into my kayak and went down and ferried the young boy stuck on the nearby rocks over to the right bank. When I got back, a firefighter had arrived on river right about a hundred feet upstream of the victim. I asked him for a rope but he said he thought his rope was too short so I ferried over to river left and borrowed a rope from two raft guides who had now stopped on that side. The firefighter wanted me to run the rope from river left back over to him and then down to the victim. I had a suspicion that it might not work but like an idiot I ignored my better judgment and just went for it. Sure enough, just as I got back right the rope came up short, dipped down into the current and pulled me downstream backward. I dodged left to avoid the rocks and victim and pulled the quick release tab on my PFD. I had attached the rope to the quick release strap and fully expected it to pull free as designed. Unfortunately when the rope came tight, it failed to release and I was quickly rolled. I popped my skirt and grabbed for my knife to cut myself free but fortunately the raft guide holding the other end of the rope recognized what was happening and let his end go. I swam in my gear, dumped out my boat and worked back up to the victim.

The raft guides on river left had now joined two ropes and got a line across to the victim. Another raft guide (Jeff) had swum down to the victim and was trying to pull his foot free. Quite a crowd had now gathered on both sides including fire and law enforcement. We were soon joined by a guy in a wetsuit, followed shortly by a guy in full dive gear. Some scissors were produced, passed over to the rescuers and after some effort the victim's shoe was cut off and he was pulled free. We swam him over to river right, and off he went to the hospital, hypothermic and with a bent flipper but still alive.


TEXT ATTACHMENTS This is amazing. You really deserve some credit for his survival. I always thought Trouble maker was a fairly safe swim, Show what I know! Dustin Holm

08-23-2008, 12:25 AM Ronin Ronin Well thanks for the support Dustin. I'm glad I could be of some help, but in all fairness I made a series of f-ups. I got the rope to the victim ok and got him up and breathing, but then I did a bad job with the swim. I should have approached the victim from the easier water to the side instead of straight upstream. Its the kind of move that would be obvious in a kayak, but once the rescue started, I was so anxious to get to the guy that I didnt slow down enough to plan my approach more carefully.

Second, I ignored that little voice in my head that told me that trying to ferry the rope across was a bad plan. This, coupled with the failure of my quick release to in fact release almost made me a victim. I will in the future double check all my gear more carefully and be more mentally prepared for things to not work correctly. Most importantly, it was only through the effort of several people that this guy survived. The first two guys that came out to help were obviously not boaters but they went all out. One of the two swam out and helped the victim stay up. Jeff and the other raft guides were also key. They were in the water, setting ropes, and came up with the scissors when they were needed. The fire guy in the wetsuit is the one who cut this guy free. If it had been just me with the victim I doubt things would have gone well.

Lastly I am going to get off my ass and take a swiftwater class.


jason bates Question Thanks for sharing... This is always good to pass around, I always find it so important to learn not only from my own folly (of which there has been plenty), but also from the accidents and/or mistakes of others. We should all help each other it this regard in the hopes that it does NOT happen to others. I had a few questions for Ronin regarding the whole deal: #1) Just to be clear, are you talking about the cluster of rather signifigant boulders just past the main rapid, still very much in play at higher flows? or did this happen even further downstream? #2) I am currious about the "failure" of the quick release, was this equipment failure, or was something rigged incorrectly? Or was this just the plain old friction of the belt, often under a load the belt will not just magically release, but sometimes needs some "encouragement". Just wondering a bit more about that.

Also one observation, in no way meant to be critical of anyone in a hectic stressfull moment like that. Instead of that guide letting go of the line, it would seem to be a much better idea to use it to pull you towards an eddy or shore perhaps? The thing is by him letting go, that line could still snag on any number of things, and if you are still attached it could have made things MUCH worse. Also with a slack line, there is no tension to pull the quick release free, thus you will have a harder time getting totally free from the rope (which in the mean time could entangle around you worse). Anyways, really happy that you guys all pulled things off and that everyone survived. Foot entrapments can be EXTREMELY difficult to deal with, and obviously VERY dangerous. Thanks again for sharing, and good idea taking a rescue class...we're all due for a refresher course from time to time.

jason bates Default saving lives is what you do! Kudos to all involved for averting another victim. It is amazing how in the heat of the moment it can become very difficult to think a plan thru clearly. EVERYONE should take a swiftwater rescue class. Especially if you are wearing a rescue vest, i've always thought you should have to produce verification of SRT training to purchase a rescue vest as "rescuers" become victims quite often.... once again great job to all involved, another eye opener to folks. be safe

quietzonebitch S

09:27 AM Ronin

To respond to your questions. 1. this occurred farther downstream. As you come through troublemaker, you drop next to gunsight through one hole, then back into the middle of the river you go through / past another hole (that I think is the one you are talking about). If you look river right, there is a moderately big eddy / indentation on the right bank. Now continuing downstream, there is another choke point in the river with a cluster of rocks against the river right side. Mid stream is a spot that occasionally forms a nice looking wave / hole. Unfortunately just downstream of this feature is a group of rocks sticking up where the water tends to pillow up some. This is closer to the right than left. The victim was caught on a cluster of rocks that are largely submerged just upstream (15 feet or so) of the pillow rocks. I have never really paid attention to this particular group of rocks before. They are in a little channel near the right bank. I hope that didnt just make things far more confusing.

2. My vest was rigged correctly (I use an Astral 300). I pulled the quick release then grabbed the end of the strap and pulled it free of the metal plate. You maybe right that if tension had been held, the strap might have slid free, but I'm not so confident of that. It pulled me over hard and I was briefly suspended in the current. I thought about trying to reach behind me and pulling on the strap or ring but to be honest, the knife seemed like a more sure bet. I want to stress that this all happened incredibly quickly. I didn't have a lot of time to debate the matter. Once I was free and floating downstream I knew I was trailing a lot of line so I quickly went for the bank. Thankfully it all went ok. I honestly don't know what else I should have done to ensure the strap came loose more easily, short of pulling the whole thing free in the first place but I just didn't have time.

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