Accident Database

Report ID# 3173

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • Other

Accident Description

 Kayaker dies in Alberton Gorge

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

A 55-year-old kayaker drowned on the Alberton Gorge Sunday afternoon after his boat flipped along a section of whitewater rapids, according to Mineral County law enforcement. Gary Markovich of Butte fell out of his boat when it capsized near Tumbleweed Rapid, and was able to grab another passing craft, whose kayaker tried towing the man to shore. Markovich’s hands apparently slipped off the kayak and he fell face-first into the water.

“It was just a few seconds under the surface and he aspirated some water and that was all it took,” said Mineral County Sheriff Hugh Hopwood. “It’s just so tragic.”

Markovich was wearing a helmet and a life preserver when his kayak capsized in the popular whitewater canyon section on the Clark Fork River west of Missoula. Several groups of experienced floaters and emergency medical responders worked to resuscitate the man, but were unable to revive him. Montana River Guides owner Mike Johnston said he was leading a riverboarding trip when he came down the rapids and spotted the accident scene. Bystanders were rendering medical aid and giving CPR to the victim, who was apparently a member of a private four-boat trip.

Several individuals in Johnston’s group had extensive experience in water rescue and emergency medical response and sprung into action, he said. “For us to come upon a medical emergency, we couldn’t have hand-picked a better all-star team for rescue in Montana,” Johnston said. “We had a firefighter rescue EMT, we had the head of Sanders County Search and Rescue, we had two guys from Missoula Search and Rescue, we had Joe Blattner from Aerie (Backcountry Medicine). As soon as we got on scene, those guys started providing extensive medical care, and on top of that we had some Missoula Osprey players out on a rafting trip, so we had these big strong guys who were able to provide paddle power during the evacuation. “I was so impressed with how hard people tried and how many people chipped in during the rescue effort, but unfortunately we weren’t able to make a difference,” Johnston added.

Markovich’s family told law enforcement that they were grateful to those who attempted to save the man. Kevin Colburn arrived on the scene in a raft after Markovich had lost consciousness, and pulled into an eddy below Tumbleweed Rapid. A group of people were already performing CPR, he said, and had been doing so for 20 minutes. The group then transferred the man to Colburn’s raft, which has a table, and his group continued the rescue efforts. “It was a very sad day,” Colburn said. “There were dozens of people helping out, and others who floated by and collected at the accident scene. It was definitely a very sad day for a huge number of people, obviously none more than this man’s family. But it was also a very intense and sad day for the entire river community.”

Johnston said the section of river in the Gorge was flowing at about 5,000 cubic feet per second, and that most rock hazards are well below the surface at this time of year. He speculated that a heart attack, a head injury or an ill-fitting life vest could have led to the man’s drowning. Johnston spoke to one bystander who saw the man’s boat capsize, and he said Markovich appeared to be handling himself well for about 30 seconds as he swam across an eddy. Another kayaker then came to his aid, and the situation seemed to be in control until Markovich lost consciousness.

“Outfitters guide thousands of people safely down the Gorge every year, and until we know the details, it’s hard to guess what specifically can be attributed to this tragedy,” Johnston said. “It is critical for everyone to use appropriate gear, and that includes life jackets that fit well. There needs to be someone who is experienced and has the good judgment to decide if it’s an appropriate stretch of river for people to be running, depending on their experience and fitness level.” Ambulance crews from Missoula and Frenchtown were able to get to the man after another guide called 9-1-1, Johnston said. A LifeFlight helicopter then met the ambulance at the Triple Bridges nearby. Markovich was pronounced dead at a Missoula hospital.


Kayaker likely drowned because of injury
Posted by: "Tom Vines" tvines3
Sun Aug 16, 2009 1:33 pm (PDT)

Billings Gazette

Kayaker likely drowned because of injury

Posted: Saturday, August 15, 2009 11:30 pm

MISSOULA - The state medical examiner said a 55-year-old Butte man who died in a weekend kayaking accident on the Clark Fork River west of Missoula probably drowned as a result of minor head trauma.

Mineral County Undersheriff Mike Johnson said the evidence that Gary Markovich hit his head rules out earlier speculation that a heart attack might have contributed to the drowning.

Markovich was kayaking in the Alberton Gorge on Sunday afternoon when he rolled his kayak. Witnesses said he was able to grab onto another kayak but slipped off and inhaled water as that person was trying to get him to shore.

Montana River Guides owner Mike Johnston was leading a group of floaters in the area and tried to help Markovich. Johnston said Markovich had a small cut on his brow, but it was hard to determine whether the injury was consistent with head trauma.


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