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Accident Description

Board of Inquiry


Date:                        Initial Review October 25, 2011; Final Report approved April 14, 2011         

Location:                 New River Gorge National River HQ, Bank Conference

Building  Members:                Jeff West, Chuck Noll, Jenny Noll, Frank Sellers, Stanley Wilson,                        Randy Fisher, and Shawn Robinson

Incident Name:       Hanna SAR

Incident Date/

Time:                       October 10, 2010 at 13:20

Incident Location:  Upper Gauley River at Pillow Rock  

Witnesses:               Frank Sellers


Evidence:       Case Incident Report 2010-0556 which included an American Whitewater Accident Report, investigator testimony, maps, photographs, witness statements, and a DNR supplemental report.

Facts/Events Leading up to Incident

Mark G. Hanna was a strong and skilled kayaker with previous experience on the Gauley River.  At Pillow Rock, Mark navigated the rapid by going down the normal, center right line.  Mark flipped on the pressure wave right above Volkswagen rock before the eddy line.  He attempted to roll his kayak 2 to 5 times and wet exited.  Mark was swimming with his head upright moving towards river right when he washed into the front side of a large undercut rock downstream of Volkswagen rock.  He was washing through a slot approximately 5 feet wide when he went underwater and became entrapped. 

At least 6 people attempted to work him out from under the rock. During the attempt to free Hanna, rescuers pulled off his PFD and dry top.   He was underwater at least 5 minutes when he was finally freed.  CPR was begun immediately by those present (including medically trained personnel) and continued for 30 to 45 minutes until EMS arrived.  He was worked aggressively for approximately 45 minutes by EMS who attempted to revive him using and AED and administering oxygen and epinephrine.  No pulse or respirations were restored and he was declared deceased on scene by medical control at 14:20.  There was no autopsy performed; however, a toxicology screen was run and returned negative.

Contributing Factors

This was a Class V rapid.

There were environmental factors present including strong current and rocks.

Many have swum this rapid which is not known for being a particularly dangerous one for entrapments.

Foot entrapment is suspected due to easy release of body after the individual became unconscious, and the rock topography in the stream at the point of entrapment.


Safety Program Review

National Park Service provides information such as signage, literature, web information, standard release levels, and weather forecasts.  Commercial guides and local agencies with swiftwater rescue response responsibilities attend an NPS sponsored training and orientation. The Gauley is also staffed with river rangers and other NPS personnel during Gauley season – NPS personnel responded to this incident.

Board Findings/Recommendations

Mr. Hanna was a skilled and experienced whitewater kayak enthusiast who was knowledgeable about the Gauley River and its hazards. He was wearing appropriate safety gear for the river, and he was in excellent physical condition. He was not under the influence of any drug. He scouted the rapid prior to making the run, and there were no unusual conditions present. This drowning was the result of an accidental entrapment in a natural hazard, a danger that is inherent in the sport. The board concluded that no additional safety information or precautions would have prevented this accident.


ike Bailey - Marty Sullivan – Mark Hanna – Kent Riegl – Zach Riegl

Joe Marksz – Mike Duvall – Bill Layton – Annelies Layton – Rob ? – Jim Murtha

We all stayed at Battle Run.  This was 2 groups of paddlers that decided to run together as we knew each other and paddled together often.  We ran shuttle separate but planned to stay together on the river.  We had a total of 3 first timers to the Upper Gauley.  Rob,  Kent, and Zack.  The day was uneventful as we took our time, stopping to play and explain the lines to the new folks.  All of the first timers were doing great as they were all strong boaters.  Zach had a little swim at Iron Curtain which is not unusual with the crazy eddy line there. 

At Pillow Rock rapid there was a lot of discussion as to whether the first timers wanted to get out and scout from river right shore.  A few weeks earlier they had all hiked down there via the Carnifax Ferry trail and felt that they had seen all they needed to see that day.  Thus they did not feel the need to get out.  However, Mike Bailey got out so everyone group got out too.  Mike Duvall had gotten out as well thinking that Rob wanted to scout.  The rest of us decided to run the rapid so that we could get out on the right shore side above the photo tarp and take videos of everyone else running the rapid.  So Annelies, Bill, Jim, Rob and I all ran the rapid.

Shortly after we got set up on shore Marty and Mark had run the rapid while Mike, Kent, Zach and Mike were still heading toward their boats after scouting.  Marty came through first and caught the right shore eddy.  Mark soon followed and even though he had a good line he flipped in the vicinity of Volkswagen Rock’s pillow.  Those of us on the shore watched the whole thing happen from where we had gotten out on river right to take videos and eat.  After Mark flipped he missed 3 rolls and while doing so was gradually drifting toward the rock that guards the bottom of the big right shore eddy.  His 4th attempt was made while he was being pushed right up against the far right side of that rock and when that one failed he pulled his skirt and got out.  I saw his head for a very brief moment and then it was gone. 

As mentioned Marty Sullivan had run right in front of him through the rapid and started on his way toward Mark as soon as he missed his 2nd and 3rd rolls.  By the time he got to him Mark had just exited his boat.  Marty was able to grab his hand but he said the force was too strong and he lost the grip.  Immediately there were a lot of skilled people frantically trying to pull Mark out.  Finally, one guide with a rescue vest strapped into a rope and actually went down in under the rock to try to get him out.  It took approximately 4 to 5 minutes before he was able to free Mark and get him out onto a nearby rock.  The undercut rock that he was trapped in was very close to the right shore.

This is where several hours of resuscitation began.  There were lots of people cooperating with those who obviously knew how to handle an emergency and took charge of the situation.  They were amazing.  After about 45 min to an hour of continual CPR with people switching out, the Summersville EMT arrived via Carnifax Ferry trail.  The EMT proceeded to use an AED and an IV drip.  He worked for another half hour.  It was then decided to put the body on a raft and take it 1 mile downstream where vehicles waited.  The rest of the group had to paddle out with Marty getting out with the rangers.  The rest of us had an uneventful paddle out from there.  We met rangers at the Panther Mountain parking area and gave statements.  

By Joe Marksz

After running the Lower on Sat., part of my group begged off on the Upper on Sunday. Three of us met the 5 kayakers at Pillow. Two of our group made it down to Pillow at around 1:15 or so. I was trailing because I went over to the far overlook of a photo and because of my knees and carrying camera gear.

When I got down near the bottom, I met someone leaving, he just said, "it's bleak down there." My guys were on the tall rock on river right at the top. They said that he flipped in Pillow, made strong efforts to roll, went over and around Volkswagen to the right and made three more roll efforts. According to them, he was still in his boat when it washed up on the huge blocking boulder that forms the down stream side of that eddy -- just below and downstream of the photographer's tent. There's a brisk but small exit stream that goes between that rock and the river bank proper. As he exited, he was swept under the right side that rock.

The eddy was heavily populated and heroic efforts were begun immediately. One source said that the tugging pulled off his PFD. My friends did not see that. Frantic efforts continued and he was pulled out and CPR was begun immediately. In the mean time, our kayakers arrived and one of those was an ER Doc. He went down to the scene. IVs were started and drugs were administered. The local EMS got a defib pack in very quickly. There was some cardiac activity restarted but he had been under water too long. The estimates I heard were from four to eight minutes. Look, I'm so sorry. I just wanted to record what we saw. I wish my added condolences would help. That could have been any of us.

Be careful out there.


NICHOLAS COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A man has died after a kayaking accident on the Gauley River. The accident happened at Pillow Rock Rapids, which is about four miles below the Summersville Dam, about 1:30 Sunday afternoon, according to the National Park Service. The kayaker -- a man in his mid fifties -- overturned and was unable to right the kayak. He came out of the kayak and got trapped under a rock, according to a press release from the National Parks Service. Other boaters on the river freed the man from the rock -- CPR was given, and efforts to save the mans life continued for some time, but he was unable to be saved according to the National Parks Service. The victim's body was taken to Summersville Hospital where the medical examiner will review the case. The name of the man has not been released, pending notification of his family.

On 10/10/10 we put on the upper Gauley with a fairly large group: me and Annelies, Zack and Kent, Mark Hanna, Marty, Rob, Mike, and Joe. Everyone there was a close friend or close friend of a close friend. Everyone there was a strong paddler. Most had done the Friday Upper Yough release and everyone had played their way down the Lower Gauley the day before. We had 3 UG first timers and everyone wanted their first run to be a positive experience. All three were strong paddlers, had already done the UY with style and were ready to have fun on the UG (instead of just survive it).

After a later than usual start, we were playing our way down the river, stopping to surf the surfable and ender at the pourovers. Everyone was having a terrific run and nailing their lines and we came to Pillow. At Pillow several got out to scout. Three of us went down right away- one to film and the other two to eat something quickly while people were scouting. A bit later, Marty and Mark Hanna ran the main line to demonstrate it for the first timers. Mark and Marty are strong and skilled paddlers and exactly the right people to demonstrate clean lines. Marty came through first and right behind him came Mark. Mark flipped on the pressure wave right above Volkswagen rock. His boat was surfed upside down hard to the right on that wave. Mark tried several times to roll (at least 3 and possibly even 5) but failed in the funny water. He swam. Marty started chasing after the first or second roll attempt. He was right there to help him.

Marty is one of the best paddlers in the Pittsburgh area. He is a skilled paddler, physically strong and was in a fast boat. He is also very experienced and didnt wait until Mark was in the water. If I am ever in a desperate situation on a river, Marty is one of the people I would hope to be there. With Marty there, I wasnt worried at all and looked back upstream to see where the first timers were (to see if I needed to get back in my boat). Then Annelies yelled that Mark was in an undercut. We were about 100 feet upstream so I didnt see every detail clearly. What I did see was a frantic, even desperate effort to save him. Marty was right there as were two young kayaker / raft guides. Mark was entrapped somehow under the big rock on river right below VW. I saw someone go under the rock to free him from upstream with only a person holding his life vest. Another rescuer tried and was under so long he came up coughing up water. At one point they had a hold on Marks life vest and pulled so hard they tore it off his body. These vests are strong enough to pull someone up a cliff on a rope. Then the same thing happened with his dry top.

Marty and the guides got him out in (it seems to me) under 5 minutes by (what I can only describe) as a desperate, even heroic, effort at great risks to themselves. They started CPR immediately right there on a rock in the river.

By the time the three of us got there CPR was well underway. I heard that two people there were either EMTs or ER doctors. Everyone there seemed to be trained in wilderness first aid. When I arrived, the guy doing the chest compressions was a young, large, strong kayaker. He, and the people rotating with him later, was doing them in earnest, like a friends life was at stake. The scene was focused and efforts were highly organized and coordinated. In about 5 minutes someone else rotated in for the chest compressions. There were two women there who had hiked down to pillow. One had cell phone coverage there and helped coordinate with EMTs who were heading down with a defibrillator. The other must have been an ER doctor, cardiac nurse, EMT or the like. She was strong, skilled and determined. She yelled for a life vest, put it on, jumped in the water and joined the CPR rotation. She spent the full hour there. Another kayaker there named Logan was also impressive. He knew what needed to be done to organize the effort and conveyed it in calm, collected but loud voice. Everyone in the CPR effort was impressive. I do not believe an ER could have done more, acted more precisely or acted faster than they did.

There were also a number of other kayakers waiting to help in any way possible. Some headed back up the goat trail at Pillow to get the defibrillator and bring it down as fast as possible. When it got there it was hooked up right away. The EMTs arrived soon thereafter with the rest of the equipment. All this time intense CPR had continued. Mark got oxygen and 3x epinephrine from the EMTs. After a full hour of CPR, there was still no pulse and Mark was disconnected. His body was rafted about 1 mile downstream to an access point.

Everyone in our group was shaken- Marty the most. He had done everything a man can do to save a friend, even at great risk to his own life. At one point in his kayak, he had a grip on Mark's arm but wasnât strong enough to pull him out of the entrapment from his boat. Marty took out there with Markâs body. The rest of us paddled out soberly. Logan came with us to make sure everyone would get out OK.

Everyone in the group that day was a good friend or a good friend of a good friend. Pillow has the reputation for being the only consequences free rapid on the UG. It isn't. I am sure that everyone in our group feels guilt and remorse. For me, this was the first time that I have run one of the big 5 and not waited in my boat at the bottom for the rest of the group. I am sure that there is nothing I could have done that Marty didnât 'lready do 10x better and faster. Still, I wish I had been in my boat to try. Mike, who had been at the top with the first timers, had to call Markâs family.

When we got off the river people would smile and ask How was your day? Now we are all trying to understand it and deal with a great loss.


Hi, this is Jeremy, Mark's son. I have never joined TRPC because I just mooched off Dad's contacts since I moved back from San Diego. I put a post up on boatertalk, but just wanted to put something here to say thanks to everyone that tried to help him on the river and for all of the condolences since. Dad had been boating since 1996 and has always been a better boater than me even though he has 18 years on me. He was also always the 1st boat to someone who had a problem, no matter if he new them or not or what the river was. I hope thats what people will remember about him and take it as an example.
One thing I thought of that I think he would like is a memorial ww rescue course. He took the one by Charlie Wallbridge twice, and thats one of the things that I need to do. Thanks again.