On April 28 2018 Burton Greer drowned in the last rapid of the Lower Linville Gorge. The Linville Gorge is typically divided into two sections with the upper section being above Conley Cove and the lower section being below Conley Cove ending at Lake James. Boaters frequently paddle both the Upper and Lower gorges in a day.
Burton and his paddling partner were familiar with the Upper section but it was their first time paddling the lower section. Burton was pinned in one of the last significant rapids before the river eases into less complex whitewater. (A detailed description of the accident by his paddling partner follows.)
The structure of the riverbed is typified by numerous undercuts and boulder sieves; this can make visual identification of hazards challenging. Extractions from sieves and undercuts are often difficult and hazardous despite well coordinated rescue efforts.
Burton was paddling a modern style river runner with a low volume stern. This style of boat sits lower in the water and may be more difficult to exit than a modern high volume creek boat. Additionally, lower volume river runners typically have two to three anchor points while a creek boat often has five. Depending on placement, anchor points may be used for carrying boats but are essential for certain rescue situations such as pin extractions.
Lower volume river runners are chosen because of the boats capabilities for play and surfing. However this boat choice provides fewer safety features for pins or situations requiring rapid egress.
From Burtons Paddling Partner:
Some details of this incident are already public knowledge and I want to share my personal account in order to help our community understand how something so tragic came to pass.
28 April 2018
Burton and I dropped a car at the highway 126 bridge and headed up to the Babel Tower trail head. The level this day was in the 2.4 feet range and was very comfortable for the two of us, having paddled the Linville at both higher and lower flows. We began paddling shortly after noon. We routed down the section between Babel and Cathedral Falls without incident, both of us running everything but Drunk Tank, the usual portages, and the couple drops currently filled with wood.
This was the first day Burton and I paddled the section between Conley and the Lake. We planned for enough daylight to scout down this section. Above the Wall rapid we encountered three other boaters who saved us some time by giving us beta on the remaining drops of significance.
After moving through the last class IV section, Burton and I continued boat-scouting down to the vehicles. Around 18:00 and 1/8 mile above the Pinch In trail we encountered a smaller rapid that funneled down toward a rock pile in the center. I was about 25 feet in front of Burton when I spotted the sieve within the pile. I hollered for to him to wait and jammed myself into a shallow eddy. Burton continued to paddle toward the pile and I believe his intent was to boof the left corner of the largest rock. Upon touching the rock he was immediately pulled down and back upstream under another rock creating the sieve.
Burton was badly pinned, but his back seemed to be slowing him from entering the sieve further. Initially there was a pocket of air created by the water spraying over his back and head. In the time I scrambled onto some rocks he had already sunk a foot lower. I reached him with my rope but he was unable to maintain his grip. It seemed he still had a source of air, but he was quickly sinking deeper into the sieve and after a few minutes his helmet blew off. The sieve consumed my rope bag and I was unsuccessful in my attempts to reach him by hand. About 7 minutes passed between Burton entering the sieve and me running upstream for assistance.
I found the other three paddlers who immediately returned to their boats and paddled downstream. Approximately 20 minutes passed between when I left and when contact was reestablished. The first paddler got back to the sieve before I did and found that Burton had flushed from the sieve, still inside his boat. He began CPR after pulling Burton to the shore; myself and the other two paddlers joined in quickly thereafter. With the assistance of two hikers in the area, a rescue call went out at 18:40 and a small team arrived from the Pinch In side at roughly 20:00. We performed CPR for over a half hour before preparing for the extraction. With the help of many superb rescue crew members from various locales, I exited the Linville Gorge with Burton some time past 01:00 on the 29th of April, 2018.
Burton, you were a great influence to me and my closest paddling partner. I am heartbroken but immensely grateful we were able to enjoy one of our favorite places together for the last time. So many paddlers across the country and world were positively affected by your joy and optimism.
John Manley Aliff
Man killed while kayaking in Linville Gorge identified
Pictured is Burton Greer, of Georgia, who was tragically killed while kayaking in the Linville Gorge on Saturday. Photo contributed/ Mark Zakutansky▲
The man who died while kayaking in the Linville Gorge on Saturday has been identified by officials with the United States Forestry Service. Burton Greer IV, 34, of Georgia, was kayaking with a friend near the Pinchin Trail in the Linville Gorge when his kayak became lodged in between rocks and overturned, said Wade Keener, a law enforcement officer with the USFS.
“The friend saw the victim go into this place and he became lodged up next to a rock and the water current took him under,” Keener said. With all the recent rain, Keener says the water levels have risen and were flowing at a higher rate of speed. “The water just kept pulling him under and the friend tried to pull him out and couldn’t,” he said. “So he ran up the trail to try and get the other kayakers to help him.”
By the time they got back, 20 minutes had gone by and the water eventually forced Greer down the stream. “They found him about an eighth of a mile down the stream and they pulled him out and started CPR,” Keener said. “The water just trapped him.” “The witness saw everything that happened,” he said.
Crews with emergency management services within Burke, Avery and McDowell counties were on scene until 2 a.m. on Sunday morning.
According to a post on the Burke County Search and Rescue Facebook page, the incident happened sometime after 6 p.m. Saturday, said a previous News Herald article. “Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends,” the post said. “Thank you to everyone who assisted with this tragic accident.”
Staff Writer Jonelle Bobak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-432-8907. Follow her on Twitter at @MNH_JonelleB.
A man drowned Saturday night in a kayaking accident
on the Linville River in the Burke County area of Pisgah National
McDowell County EMS received a 911 call at 7 p.m. for an overturned
kayaker, said Angela Hibbard, operations manager for Burke County
communications, which dispatched the call.
The accident occurred at the intersection of the Linville River with the
Pinch In Trail, an extremely steep and rugged hike-only trail. Emergency
responders included Burke County and McDowell County rescue teams, the U.S.
Forest Service, the North Carolina Forest Service, Oak Hill and Glen Alpine
fire departments and Burke County React, Hibbard said.
The kayaker, William HalliBurton, "Burton" Greer IV, 32, of Atlanta, was an
electrical engineer and avid whitewater paddler who spent a lot of time on
WNC rivers, according to friends and family.
Burton and his younger sister, Meghan, grew up in Cobb County, Georgia.
Burton was introduced to kayaking while in his early 20s by his second
cousins Spring and Maury Weldon, according to Burton's parents, HalliBurton
and Glenda Greer.
"We are especially grateful to these two girls for opening a door that has
given Burton many friends," the Greers said by email.
Mark Zakutansky, a longtime friend of Burton’s, said they met many years
ago through whitewater paddling.
“He was a very avid paddler, both kayak and canoe whitewater. He was
definitely a top-notch paddler at the very highest level,” Zakutansky said.
“Burton had a love of experiences, of adventure, but most importantly of
the people that he shared those experiences with. He had a gift to interact
with people at every place he visited, and immediately came across as a
friend. Burton created a sense community everywhere he went."
Burton Greer knew the WNC rivers well, and had competed in the Green River
Narrows Race in Polk County, considered one of the most challenging
downriver races in the world.
He and Asheville paddler Nathan Zumwalt were featured in a 2012 Canoe &
Kayak magazine article for their history making descent as the first tandem
open canoe to run the Class V Green River Narrows.
"He boated in WNC a lot, between the Green River, Cheoah, etc, there's a
lot of dam release rivers that run all summer that he would paddle," said
friend Chris Preperato. "He paddled all over the country, it was a driving
force in his life."
According to Cathy Dowd, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman in Asheville,
Greer's kayak became lodged on a rock.
"Other kayakers arrived to help after approximately 20 minutes. They pulled
him from the river and performed CPR. He died on the scene,” Dowd said.
Dowd said the accident happened just below the last Class IV rapid, at a
time when the river was unusually swollen after the recent rains.
"The river is not always high enough to run kayaks, so it’s not unusual for
kayakers to be on it at this time, after a big rain," she said.
Rescuers arrived at 8:01 p.m. and cleared the scene at 1:30 a.m., Hibbard
“You can’t drive in. That’s what takes so long for rescues in Linville
Gorge,” she said.
The Pinch In Trail begins on Kistler Memorial Highway/Old N.C. Highway 105.
The accident occurred near the southern edge of the Linville Gorge