Accident Database

Report ID# 3294

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • Failed Rescue

Accident Description

The New England whitewater community was shocked by the death of Jimmy O’Brien on Hubbard Brook on March 16st  Mr. O’Brien, 47, was one of the strongest paddlers in New England and a friend and mentor to many. Hubbard Brook is a class IV-V creek that was flowing at a medium level when he and two peers made their second run of the day. This was a very strong group that knew the river well.

There’s a bad hole on river left below Michaud Falls, a powerful reversal with a deep recirculation that’s given some strong paddlers a very hard time. It’s easily missed and no one is quite sure why Mr. O’Brien, who was in the lead, ended up in here. He surfed the hole for a short time before he bailed out and was recirculated by the icy water. He was in serious trouble.

His friends tried to paddle into the hole so they could pull him out. One paddler flipped, rolled, and was somehow pushed out of the hole. By the time the second paddler got to Mr. O’Brien he was exhausted. His face was blue and he was too weak to hold on to the man’s bow. After Mr. O’Brien lost consciousness he went limp and washed out of the hole. One of his friends bailed out and grabbed him while the second man pushed the two men ashore. The pair performed CPR for over 30 minutes before going for help. 

"Dry" Pants and Long-Swims...

Printed From:
Category: General
Forum Name: Whitewater Forum
Forum Discription: Open Discussion Forum. Whitewater related subjects only
Printed Date: 31 May 2022 at 4:35am

Topic: "Dry" Pants and Long-Swims...
Posted By: JayB
Subject: "Dry" Pants and Long-Swims...
Date Posted: 29 Sep 2010 at 10:41pm
Hey All:

I've heard a murmur or two about dry-pants taking on more than a bit of water during long, punishing swims before now, but recently "flooded" dry-pants have been brought up as a possible contributor to Jim O'Brien's death via flush drowning on Hubbard Brook (Western Mass) back in March/April.

Just for the sake of background, if there was one guy who was "The Man" when it came to creeking in the greater Western Mass area it was JIm, and the fact that he died in a hydraulic on a run that he'd done at least a few dozen times before, that was waaay below his top-end abilities, despite the best efforts of two equally rock-solid boaters to save him shook up everyone in that scene pretty badly.

Anyhow - now that the details associated with Jim's death have begun to emerge, and flooded dry-pants have emerged as one of many potential contributors to his death - along with extreme cold and a number of other factors - I thought I'd cross post the thread here and ask anyone with first-hand knowledge if they've ever experienced anything like a bad swim made worse by drypants taking on excess water or have heard of anything along those lines.

I converted to a drysuit a few years ago and don't see myself ever going back, and this could be a one-off event, but if this is a potential downside of this piece of gear, it's worth talking about IMO.


Springfield teacher James P. O'Brien drowned in Granville State Forest kayaking accident

By Pamela Metaxas, The Republican

March 17, 2010, 7:53AM

GRANVILLE – State Police Wednesday identified a man who apparently drowned in Hubbard Brook in the Granville State Forest as James P. O’Brien of Westfield.

State Police Lt. David Wilson of the Massachusetts State Police Public Affairs Unit, said troopers assigned to the Russell Barracks located O’Brien, 47, in a remote area of the forest Tuesday afternon.He was a long-time teacher at Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical High School in Springfield.

Troopers responded at 2:40 p.m. A preliminary investigation by Trooper Gary Fitzgerald suggested that O’Brien drowned after a kayaking accident. Troopers had to cross 1½ miles of rough terrain to reach the victim.  O’Brien was kayaking with friends on Hubbard Brook. 

He was well-loved among the Western Massachusetts kayaking community as one of the most skilled, experienced and safety conscious whitewater kayakers in the area.  O’Brien introduced some of the area’s creeks and rivers to other boaters. 

As word began to spread via telephone calls on Tuesday, people began posting tributes to O’Brien on the Northeast-Paddlers-Message-Board.

According to friends of O’Brien, his passion for whitewater kayaking was matched only by his love of teaching his students at Putnam.  Kevin McCaskill, Putnam principal, described O’Brien as “a consumate professional and just beautiful man.” He said O’Brien was “great, great with students, always engaging.” 

He said that a school-wide program on the events of the past few days in Springfield was held this morning, and then the students from the auto shop program met with staff and grief counselors. O’Brien taught auto body reconditioning. O’Brien and teacher Daniel M. Meehan ran the school’s Putnam Outdoor Adventure Club. They took students whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, mountain biking, cross country skiing, camping and rock climbing. 

Wilson said additional information on the facts and circumstances of the incident may be obtained from the Hampden County District Attorney’s office.  Assisting at the scene were the State Police Crime Scene, State Police Air Wing, Granville Fire Department and the Tolland Fire Department. 

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