Accident Database

Report ID# 3301

  • Other
  • Other
  • Cold Water
  • Solo Paddling
  • High Water

Accident Description

The Swim -- What a paddler sees who is about to die

From the Potomac River Paddlers group. This is a long video. Imagine how long it felt to the swimmer. The paddler is very lucky. My comments: One's a victim, Two's a witness. Three's a rescue. Never paddle alone.... especially on a BIG river just before dark.

AlFolks - A few days ago, a solo kayaker was rescued from the Potomac River. He thought he was going to die. His name is Scott Butts, a whitewater paddler from West Virginia. I am providing the link to his helmet camera at the bottom of this message. You will see how he capsized, and how his paddle broke at the shaft. You will see him lose his boat. He was ultimately be swept away in the raging river. The river keeps pushing him to the middle as he tries to swim to safety, and he can't make it to shore. And then the sun sets.

This amazing video exists because Scott kept his helmet camera on throughout the ordeal. Scott got into trouble and had to be rescued from the Potomac just south of the Route 340 Bridge in Sandy Hook. At the time of the rescue, the river was running high, and water temperatures were around 50 degrees. A Sandy Hook resident along the river heard a man calling for help and blowing a whistle just after 7:30 PM. Fire and Rescue units from both Frederick and Washington County dispatched five boats and two ambulances, as well as two Maryland State Police helicopters (Trooper 3 and Trooper 2). Due to the extremely high and dangerous water and difficulties accessing the search area, the rescue crews coordinated with the crew of Trooper 3 and decided to wait for the helicopter to assess the situation before putting rescue personnel into the high water.

It was too dangerous to put any rescue boats in the water. The helicopter, Trooper 3, based out of the Frederick Airport, arrived on the scene at 7:57 p.m. ready for what was a hoist operation. The crew of Trooper 3 began searching the river, islands, and small pockets of trees that protruded up through the high water with both the search light and night vision goggles. The victim was located with night vision goggles, clinging to a small group of trees that were partially submerged in the water. The victim was able to climb into one of the trees and stand on a branch elevating most of his body out of the frigid rushing water. Trooper 2, based out of Andrews Air Force Base, arrived on scene at 8:17 PM, just in time to assist Trooper 3 by providing additional lighting and clear hazards. Trooper 3 executed the extremely difficult night hoist over rushing water from approximately 50 feet; the crew lowered a rescue basket down to the water beside the trees that the kayaker was stranded in. The kayaker was able to climb into the rescue basket and was hoisted to the hovering aircraft above him.

The victim was then flown to an waiting ambulance off Keep Tryst Road for further evaluation. Washington County Advanced Life Support units assessed the victim, who ultimately refused transport. The rescue was an overwhelming success and well coordinated with all of the involved agencies.


Kayaker rescued from Potomac after paddle breaks

Maryland State Police

Two helicopters participated in the nighttime rescue of a kayaker who got stranded in the Potomac River near Sandy Hook just (below Harpers Ferry/shenandoah confluence) in Washington County after his paddle broke. Rescue crews hoisted 46-year-old Scott Butts of Bolivar, W.Va., out of the water at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday just south of the U.S. 340 bridge. Authorities were alerted by a local resident who heard cries for help. Helicopters responded from Frederick and Andrews Air Force Base. Police say workers used night vision goggles to locate Butts, clinging to some partially submerged trees. With one chopper providing additional lighting, rescuers lowered a basket and Butts climbed in. Police say Butts declined to go to a hospital after he was examined at the scene.


Associated Press By Washington Post Editors | March 17, 2010; 4:12 PM ET

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