Accident Database

Report ID# 3337

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

 A raft lost its paddlers in the mid rapid hole of Bear Creek Rapid. Dave was ither recirculated in the hole or body pinned, or a combination of the two. He was underwater for approximatly 5 minutes before being pulled from the river. CPR began within 2 minutes of removal from the water. Dave regained conciousness within 15 minutes and was able to move himself from the rock to a raft which we roped over to the rock he was on. He was transported on a helicopter to the hospital, possibly in Knoxville based on the direction the helicopter left in.

Witness Narrative by Shayne Day on 2010-05-27

Here's my report:

I was involved with the rescue on the Cheoah, at Bear Creek Rapid on May 22, 2010.  This is now the second time I have been involved with a drowning.  The first one being in 1993, Jason Allgood, on Nantahala Falls.  He was a personal friend of mine, and his loss has affected me in many ways, and possibly one of the many reasons why I was able to assist with the rescue.
Adriene Levknecht was leading a Advanced Creeking Clinic for the Boater Chick Festival, Tommy Yon and myself were safety boating for the group of ladies.  We had made it down to Big Un' or Bear Creek Falls, the 10 foot waterfall that the Cheoah is known for.  It was near 3 o'clock and we were in the eddy below the rapid waiting for the entire group to make it through the rapid.  Adriene recalled seeing the raft run the falls and continue on into the rapid below, noting nothing seeemed unusual. 

After ensuring we had everyone together several minutes later, we ran the right 
side of Bear Creek Rapid.  This rapid is split by an island and the left side is refered to as the West Prong Line, the Right side is generally refered to as Python by the rafting outfitters.  I had warned the group of a ledge about half way down that had a powerful hydraulic backed up by rocks and sort of boxed in. Our plan was to sneak left of the hole. I was leading the final three through the rapid.  I decided to eddy one small drop below the hole in the middle of the rapid and let the group pass to help ease the swim if there were trouble As I entered the eddy I noticed a guy (John Doe, I don't know his name) on a rock, and saw him pull a body (Dave) out of the river.  I turned my attention back to the group and saw they all made it safely by, and looked back to the rock to get a better idea of what was happening. There were two other boaters (rafters) on a small midstream boulder down from the rock.  There was also another boater (Nick) on the right bank parallel with the rock.  I ferried over to the eddy created by the rock, tossed my paddle to the two on the small rock below, shuttled my boat to them, and told JD to help me up.

Dave was unconscious., eyes were open, and mouth was locked shut.  After a very brief assessment and knowing he was under for 4 1/2 to 5 minutes I moved immediately to the chest since JD was in a better position to take the head.  I pumped his chest very lightly several times before remembering to check pulse.  I assumed his heart had stopped.  While trying to check pulse I heard a struggle to get breaths in.  JD stated he couldn't get air in, I went in and checked the head tilt/chin lift, and tried to open his mouth which was still locked shut.  I went immediately to pumping his chest softly to move air, then I remembered the nose could be used.  I shouted immediately to breath into his nose.  I went for the chest again and shortly after JD said he's breathing.  I moved immediately to the neck to feel the pulse.  It was difficult to discern all the vibrations in the body; the river, shouting from JD , a strange intermitent gurgeling, and an irratic bounding pulse combined.  But I could say that took 1 minute alone to isolate the pulse.  I placed my hand on his chest and felt very weak breaths.  I called for more breaths, which turned almost immediatly into a very deep and labored, inconsistent breathing pattern.  I stayed on the pulse and feeling the chest.  I could feel water gurgeling in the lungs, but he was breathing on his own and his pulse seemed to be returning to normal but still didn't feel right. 

During all of this, Tommy and Adriene had exited the river and ran upstream on the road.  Tommy was at stream level and acted as a info relay to the road, and Adriene acted as command at the road, ensuring that resuce was called.  If I wasn't signalling with my hands to the shore, I was monitoring his pulse and breathing. Tommy and Nick worked to rope the two off the small boulder and get them out of harms way.    JD was talking to Dave, the victim, the entire time, who was still unresponsive. n a moment it all changed.  He asked Dave to blink twice if he could hear him, and he blinked once.  I would say that 10 minutes had passed total at this point from arriving on the rock, approx 15 minutes after the incident that led to this.  This gave a feeling of hope and the energy level increased on the rock.  He was still unstable, drifting between conciousness and unconciousness.   We moved Dave further out of the water at that point, and while moving his legs I felt his arm move.  I looked and could see his eyes were returning to normal.  In the next 3 to 5 minutes Dave improved leaps and bounds.  He was moving all his limbs and maintaing slow, labored conversation.  He sat up on his own and probably felt as if he just woke up from a really weird dream. 

I looked up to see the Basic Life Support vehicle through the bushes.  After a brief interview with Dave, I signaled to the bank that he was A+O 3, he knew where he was and the day of the week.  I could see a small abrasion that wasn't bleeding above his left eye but no other signs of body trauma.  I turned my attention back to the road where Tommy had help and brought a small 2 thwart raft down to the river.  Nick threw a throw rope which I relayed to Tommy and I pulled the raft up to the rock.  Leaving the rope tied to the raft we passed it back to Nick.  Tommy and Adrian left the rope used to lower the raft down attached as well.  Dave was still fuzzy headed and said his head felt watery so we allowed a few extra minutes to pass before loading Dave and JD into the raft.  When we reached shore the land crew took over lead by a Nurse, Joel, who showed up on scene during the event, securing him to the backboard and stabilizing his neck.  A brief argument ensued between the rescue professionals and us at the bottom, as to the amount of manpower needed at the bottom, so we worked as best we could to stabilize the stokes litter up the hill.  At that point ambulances were already on scene and care of Dave was passed off.  We continued on our trip and saw Dave being wheeled from the ambulance to the helicopter waiting on the bridge.  As we watched the helicopter from the river all I could do was give 2 thumbs up to the pilots as they flew north to Knoxville. 

I knew all the training I have had would help out one day.  I also realize that without the rapid response of everyone on the scene, the outcome could have been different.  However JD ended up on the rock, he was the key element in Dave's survival, he was aware of the situation and alert enough to get Dave out of the river and onto the rock.  I also thank the two guys from the rock for assisting in keeping my gear from getting lost, I would have been forced to let my kayak float if they were not where they were.  And to the Rescue Professionals who were called onto the scene, to have a rescue timeframe as tight as it was, was exceptional.  I would say that only 1 hour passed from accident to helicoper liftoff. 

Hopefully this will never be needed with me again, but if it does, I feel I will be better prepaired and less assumptive.  Get back to the ABC's and the D's and E's. But it was good to see it work in front of me.  It gives me hope that there will be many more successful rescues as opposed to recoverys.

Shayne Day

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