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Accident Description


I read the accident report about the colorado one, and while I feel absolutely terrible for the woman who lost her fiance, and everybody who knew him, this is a classic case of "1's a missing person, 2's an accident report, 3's a rescue."  this was a non-trivial, 70' waterfall in a boxed in gorge.  with a larger team, and given that he had escaped the boat and was on land behind the falls, it would probably have just been an epic beatdown and a rescue v. fatality.

Reply:

He was not on dry land behind the falls, he was clinging to a hundred year old timber wall, after 15-20 minutes of full on effort to paddle out past an undercut cliff. An extra person or two would not have made much difference. The only thing that might have helped would have been a complete vertical rescue system, pre-rigged and in place. Maybe. It has been done for other drops, but the perception of this waterfall was that it would not require that kind of effort. It had been run backward and upside down in the past. Given that the bow of his boat was caved in, there was probably new rock or debris in the landing area. 

J B Sea on Boatertalk

This is perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write, but I think the boating community should be aware and hopefully take this in to consideration when running this specific drop, or any big drop in the future. Kayaking is an extreme sport, and sometimes comes with the ultimate consequence. Yesterday, my fiance and I were up scouting Sherman Falls/Cinnamon Gorge for the third day in a row. His goal was to run Sherman falls and hike back out of the gorge so we were never separated. We had already discussed the best line, safety set-up, and consequences.

He made the decision to run, knowing that it was a big drop. I fully trust him to make his own boating decisions- he is a very rational, intelligent, mature man, an incredible kayaker, and he was confident he could hit the line. He came over the falls just slightly over vertical and surfaced upside down. The timing of his roll with the surges in the waterfall were aligned just wrong and he ended up being pushed behind the falls. After numerous attempts to paddle out and getting pinned in the undercut river left wall, he swam and attempted to climb the railroad ties behind the falls to jump and catch a current out of the cave.

I waited with a rope just beyond the pool. His jump was unsuccessful and all I can ascertain is that he was held underwater for a significant period of time. After waiting for him to resurface, I finally had to rope back up from water level to assess. Going back up was an incredibly difficult decision- I could not see as well from where I was, but if he floated out and I wasn’t down at water level, I would have no way to catch him if he floated by unconscious. He was still missing for a few more minutes as I made it back up, and then I saw him surface unconscious behind the falls with his boat. After looking at all the options, and watching for several minutes, I was forced to conclude there was nothing more I could do. The purpose of posting this is not to start a “what if” scenario for our safety set up, so please, leave that to my own thoughts and nightmares.

Search and rescue recovered him from behind the falls this evening. I would like to thank that entire team for recovering him without any injuries to their crew, and for the sheriff’s department of Lake City for helping myself and my family through this. Life is fragile, sometimes surprisingly so. I think kayaking is learning the art of working with the very element that can destroy you. He died doing the thing he loved most with the person he loved most. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say no one should run that waterfall, or even decide whether I will ever boat again at this point. I would just ask that you consider the risks before you set on the river, and know that anything can happen. Please keep us in your prayers.

Ed was an expert paddler who ran the hardest runs in the Morgantown, WV area. He was highly respected locally.

The Upper Lake Fork Gorge is 400 feet below the road; you have to go down a rough scree slope to get to the river.

The front of Ed's boat was bashed in, suggesting that he pitoned a rock. This drop has been run often by locals and is considered straightforward and clean.

That impact pushed Ed back behind the falls. He couldn't paddle or swim out over the boil, which is both inside and outside the drop. He kept getting pushed into the "cave", which was the undercut rear wall. After Ed's attempted swim out it's possible he was held underwater by an obstacle.

Conversation with Sara Cranor, Ed's Fiance and a witness to the accident.

Addendum:

I was looking at pictures from when Gordon Dalton ran the falls in '05 and there is a picture from above.  That shot is impossible at this point because there is a giant rock chocked between the cliff walls just above the lip of the falls about 100 feet up.  I think it is very possible that half that rock broke off and landed in the pool sometime since the falls were run last.  That would explain why the landing pool looks nothing like the landing pool in Gordon's pictures.

I hope this helps,
 

Sarah Cranor