It is with a humbled heart that I describe my own near drowning incident and how the situation was handled. It had been raining in Pucón, Chile for about three days and our kayak academy group was looking for the right run. The Rio Turbio is the closest run to our base; just a 3-minute drive to a bridge overlooking the river’s gauge. Many of the small rivers were on their way back down and the Turbio had dropped to an optimal level. While the upper stretch has serious class V drops there are some beautiful slides class II to IV on the lower part of this section. The run is a young basalt flow making this the most hikable and portagable river in the area. We planned to hike this gorgeous run with the option to run the class II to IV slides and rapids. No class V drops would be permitted.
It was a gorgeous day after the rain with the sun clearing clouds. As we scouted the portages a professional group of kayakers known as the Demshitz, which many of our students look up to, passed us. We dropped our kayaks some distance below the normal class V beautiful slides and cascading put-in and hiked up to watch the big boys. Students were excited watch them run run a 40 foot waterfall and then two class V slides. We hiked back to our kayaks, ran a class III rapid, and then portaged another 400 yards of rapids. In this section we again saw the big boys on a class V drop.
We eventually put on and ran our first class IV, eddied out and began to get into a groove. Students were in groups of three hopping eddies. Everyone got into a flow and rhythm, the day was sunny, and photogenic. I was happy for the kids to see this unique river. Near the end of the run we arrived to a large eddy above a 10’ waterfall to scout. While I had made a rule for the students to not run any class V drops I chose to run this drop myself.
I ran a left side boof flat that landed and immediately I flipped. There was a strong bubbly boil or frothy current line that combined with being pulled back into the waterfall curtain would not allow anything close to a roll. I swam out of the kayak and after a few seconds resurfaced briefly about 6’ downstream of the waterfall. I glimpsed a rope and quickly went under as I began my recirculation pattern. I would not have the luxury of resurfacing for another 60 to 90 seconds. Under the water I attempted several exit maneuvers but ultimately the waterfall froth kept me just under the surface. Eventually, I swam down to the bottom of the river with the waterfall current to try and flush out of the hydraulic from the downstream side. Swimming down to the bottom with the current was the last thing I recall during my struggle that is vivid in my mind.
Witnesses said I rose to the surface unconscious face down and floated out of the back of the recirculation zone. Three students pulled me to the bank. They cut my pfd straps and the neck gasket and neck of my drytop to get to my body and performed CPR for 2 minutes until I regained consciousness. I walked out, with help from the students at first, and was later able to move more quickly unassisted. Nearby residents drove me 200 m to their home, and placed me in a warm shower as I undressed. They called the Pucón hospital emergency room.
After warming, warm clothes, and wrapping in a blanket we drove 10 minutes to the hospital that immediately accepted based on the previous phone call. Vitals were checked and I was given oxygen. The doctor stated I had an inflamed lung but would be fine. A prescription for inflammation and an antibiotic were prescribed as the nurse rechecked vitals. They also gave me oxygen.
I was embarrassed, humbled, and upset with myself. No student ran anything more than a class IV drop and they acted swiftly ato perform thr rescue that ultimately saved my life. Today we discussed the incident and the reason why coaches have continually made students walk serious rapids. Last night I was sleepless as I too have learnt and contemplated deeper lessons throughout the night. This morning I felt like I had a hangover. Now, I am feeling much better. I will not paddle this week.