AW Accident Report
River / Section / AW Tellico, Upper
Date/time of the accident 2011-01-01, 12:08pm
Paddlers: Bill Allen; Gavin Fay; Bartosz Ilkowski; Porpon (Paul) Pichanusakorn; Rob Strangia Other on-site Rescuers Dru Ellis, Kaylan Ellis; Tommy Clapp and many more
Victim Porpon (Paul, Bonpon) Pichanusakorn January 4th, 2011 revised January 5th, 2011
My opinion of what happened is that the group was at the put in prior to the river rising to a critical level. It rose approx 7 ft. in less than 2 hrs. From the put in it's difficult to tell how much it had increased and the approach to the first ledge seems benign as it is a pretty consistent line even with a higher level. The first ledge itself had formed a terminal hydraulic along where the normal line is and you wouldn't be able to see that from your boat upstream. My estimate was that the river was approaching 5ft. when I heard about the accident and rushed to the scene.
I arrived after the victim (Paul) had been rescued from the water and was on the opposite bank of the road and CPR was in progress. Quickly unloaded my boat and ferried across river to assist. My buddy did the same and ferried a rope across to arrange for the transfer. My wife organized a rope on the road side bank for assistance up to the road for when we got him across. There were four people on the bank, two doing CPR and two arranging for transport across river. An attempt was made to transfer across river in a single kayak upon my completed ferry and I was told to assist with the transfer. This failed immediately due to instability of the single boat and Paul was returned to the bank where CPR was resumed.
Then three kayaks were tied together while I and another continued CPR. When the boats were assembled and tied together he was placed in the center kayak with a skirt and the two outer kayaks skirted. Two swimmers assisted the boats as they were pulled across river and he was quickly trasferred to an awaiting van. I noticed that there were many people on the road side but was impressed with how everyone worked together and how fast he made it to the van. Some folks running around in shock also which is normal for the scene.
As far as what could have been done to improve the outcome? I feel like the people involved reacted appropriately. Paul received high quality CPR. The transfer went well with three boats and swimmer assist. The transfer to the van was very quick. My compliments to all of the people involved who assisted in helping Paul in this incident. I commend you on doing a good job and am so very sorry for the outcome. My condolences and prayers go out to the family and all of his friends.
I have been trying to review your docs, with no luck yet. I have been away from a computer until now. I have been reviewing the events of the day and do believe Paul was brought to the river bank in such a quick manner that I thought we really had a good chance. Paul had so much inflammation, after you and I started CPR, that I was concerned but still optimistic. Paul was in the water too long. When my friend Dru came over in his boat from river left (who is in the medical field) that was another spark of hope.
I have been in a CPR situation 4 times in my life and have been in the water field all my life and a CPR instructor for 10 plus years. So with the help from you Drew,Rob,Gavin and every boater and person on the river road I was still in good thoughts. Paul could not have been in better hands. I am sometimes at a lost for words, but would like to say you are doing a good job. You are not alone so please let me know if I can help you in any way.
Gavin Fay January 3, 2011
My account of the events that happened on January 1, 2011 at First Ledge-Tellico River. I was involved in the rescue efforts but not in the actual CPR. Paddlers Paul Pichanusakorn, Rob Strangia, Bartek Ilkowski, Bill Allen, and Gavin Fay.
Driving up River Road on the way to the put in Rob Strangia and myself observed the level on the Tellico and deemed it a perfect level as we saw it. Upon reaching the river put in we saw two other paddlers waiting there. During an introduction Rob and I find out the paddlers are Bill Allen and Paul Pichanusakorn. Prior to this day I had never met or paddled with either Bill or Paul. Bill and Paul are waiting to meet up with another paddler Bartek Ilkowski. When Bartek shows up all 5 of us start suiting up and making our way down to the river put in.
After we put on there was about 10 minutes of warm up and paddling around before we headed out. I was the first in our group, and as we headed under the River Rd bridge I noticed there was a decent amount of water in the river already. As I approached 1st Ledge I paddled really hard over the drop and made clean run. As I got to the bottom I remember looking over my shoulder to see how everyone else was doing. I saw Bill and Bartek behind me, but then noticed that Paul and Rob were stuck in the hydraulic at 1st Ledge. I observed the situation for a few seconds from my kayak then realized the guy’s might be in real trouble.
I quickly fought the current to a small upstream eddy on river left, the road side. I climbed out and grabbed my throw rope and started my scramble up the river bank. Now at this point I could still see Rob very clearly fighting in the hydraulic, and I thought I saw Paul fighting as well. As I worked up the steep and slippery bank I saw that Rob managed to get himself free. He floated down downstream to a mid river rock maybe 20-30 feet from the hydraulic. I realized Rob was clear and safe so now I kept looking for Paul. I was still probably 60-75 feet away from Paul’s location in the hydraulic. I did not see him in the hydraulic so I thought maybe he got free and floated down during the mayhem. As I looked downstream I did not see Paul in the water or near the banks. I continued to scan the rapid for any sign of him.
Finally I saw a glimpse of orange, but it appeared to be behind the curtain of water coming over the drop. A few seconds later I saw Paul float up and out and he was face down still stuck in the hydraulic. I quickly realized he was unconscious. I began yelling to Rob who at this point turned around on the rock he was on and noticed Paul as well. Rob threw a rope to Paul since he was the closest to him but to no avail since he was unconscious. Paul finally floated free and went down river where Bill and Bartek were waiting to intercept him to get him to shore.
I ran back to my kayak got in headed down stream where I saw Bill and Bartek administering CPR. Rob had safely swam over to the river left bank.
Account Given by Tommy Clapp
I spoke with Paul and another paddler before Dave and I put on. They stated that they were waiting on one more paddler and so we headed on down. Dave took out above Baby Falls I finished my Lap to below Jared’s Knee (time was approx. 12:00pm EST). I had met back up with Dave and other boaters at the Baby falls parking area when a woman is a late 90’s black Ford Taurus pulled up and said a boater had been hurt and we needed to call 911. A boater told her to drive out and call 911 as no one has service at Baby Falls.
I and 3 other boater jumped into the back of a truck with ropes and sped up the road looking for the injured boater. Just below the 1st ledge on river right we could see two boaters working on a 3rd. It appeared that CPR had began and the victims boat had just washed by them. Our first attempt was to swim a line over, the current was too strong and so we lowered a boat to the river from the road, attached a line to my tow on my PFD and I ferried it across. About that same time other boaters coming down eddied out.
Our first attempt was to use the line across the river to use a single boat (nomad 8.5) to ferry him across with a swimmer. This did not work as the current was extremely swift and a skirt was not placed on the boat. Paul was taken back to shore, CPR was continued and the boat was pulled back to river right, drained and we lashed 3 boats together (2 nomad 8.5’s on the outside, and an older Jackson Hero in the middle). While CPR was being given, and boats were being lashed together a new line was ferried over. With those boats skirted to keep water out, and 2 swimmers Paul was placed in the center boat and ferried back across to river left. He was swiftly carried up to my van, placed in the back and sped away to meet the ambulance.
I did not look at my watch, but I believe that the total time from the time I ferried over to the time the van left was 25-30 mins.
Rob Strangia's account
My account of Paul's tragedy is from unique perspective. I was following behind Paul into the rapid and was also stuck and swam the same hole at the same time as he. We scouted the major rapids, Jarrod’s Knee & Baby Falls, on the way up to the put in. The Knee had just a few inches of water going over it suggesting that the river level was at what American Whitewater considers a Medium runable level. Most of our group had experience at this level and at higher levels. So the call was made that the river was good to paddle as long as we stopped before reaching those rapids to scout again to see if the water had come up even more.
The incident did not happen on either of these "harder" drops. It happen on the very first rapid called "Top Ledge" on what American Whitewater rates as a Class III Rapid. According to American Whitewater Tellico Page, "The Top Ledge is a six-foot drop that shouldn't present any problems, although river right should be avoided because a pinning potential exists".
As we are entering the first drop on the standard "left of center line" & just seconds after putting on, I notice that the normally large river right eddy was nearly non-existent. This suggests to me that the river has risen significantly since we drove by just a few minutes earlier. Because we are now entering the rapid, it’s too late to take off until we at least clear the first set of ledges. I followed sweep behind Paul over the ledges I notice das we are clearing the first ledge of the rapid that a normally exposed mid-stream rock that it just downstream of the first ledge is covered with water. This confirms to me that the river is flashing.
Everyone, including Paul clears the first part of the rapid successful and enters the 2nd part in the same spot. Gavin, Bill, & Bartec all clear the second part successful. However, Paul melts down into the Hole and is getting window shaded. Unable to stop, I enter the rapid doing my best to avoid him. This gets me stuck in the hole as well. I am upright at first, but Paul is already upside down as I enter the drop. I am soon upside down as well and am unable to roll because Paul’s boat was blocking my roll set up. It is unclear to me if he was still in his boat at this time.
At that point, I quickly choose to do a wet exit while I still had the energy to swim out. After exiting my boat, I am trapped in the hole with both boats. I grab onto my boat for floatation, but quickly let go of it for fear of it getting me pulled back deeper into the hydraulic . I then decide to ball up and go deep in hope of catching a deepwater downstream current. However, the deep water current seemed to be pulling even harder back upstream and into the hydraulic. I started swimming aggressively downstream to avoid getting pulled back into the hydraulic. I am able to keep myself from being pulled back in and underwater, but am unable to free myself. I then look around notice that there seemed to be some downstream surface flow more towards the river’s center (River Right). I then start swimming parallel to the ledge and towards the downstream flow. Once I reached the downstream flow I was washed out of the hole and was able to swim to a midstream rock just downstream of the ledge.
At this point, I could see Gavin heading upstream along the river right with a rope thinking that he was coming for me. I also saw Bill & Bartec a good bit further downstream & thought they were rescuing Paul. Gavin kept pointing upstream towards the ledge but all that I could see were the two boats being recirculated. I did not see Paul and still thought that he was downstream with Bartec & Bill. After a good bit of time, I eventually saw Paul surface and was able to throw a rope to him from the mid-stream rock that I was on. It landed across his chest, but he was clearly unconscious and unable to grab it. He was recirculated at least few more times after that before he was eventually washed out and began floating downstream face down.
Bartec & Bill were quickly able to get him to shore and began CPR. I then swam to safety on the River left and flagged down a bystander to call 911 and helped with the river transfer ropes on the river left bank. I think that the CPR details are best to be described by Bartec & Bill. But I do want to add a few thoughts...
1) It would have been nearly impossible for Gavin or anyone on the riverbank to have been able to get a rope to him. Paul was not visable for much of the time and was too far away from either bank for a rope throw. I was in a unique position stranded on a mid-stream rock and with my rope around my waist that allowed me to actually be close enough to try and get him a rope.
2) The American Whitewater Website Tellico Page states "The Top Ledge is a six-foot drop that shouldn't present any problems, although river right should be avoided because a pinning potential exists". We all ran the standard, left of center line. However, I believe that the Terminal Hydraulic was created in that section due to downstream rocks (the ones that I was stranded on) blocking the outflow from the hole. This may explain why I did not find a downstream current when going down deep. The rapid increase in water level magnified this hazard creating a Teminal Hole.
Bartek's (Bartosz Ilkowski's) account.
(SWR training, WFA & CPR certified).
January 4, 2011: There are moments which have escaped me and others that I have a painfully vivid memory of. As the time passes some things clear up and others become a blur. I am sure I have missed something relevant to the timeline or that I have got something plain wrong. On the way to the put-in I took a good look at Jarred's Knee, Baby Falls and the bend above it, Dirty-S and the first ledge. All of them looked very good, all of the usual features were in place and the water had its usual color. The Knee was covered by 2-3 inches of water, the leaking eddy above the flake was good for two boats. Eddy-hopping options above Baby Falls looked great too. The "parking" eddy just above AutoBoof had lots of space and the first ledge looked perfect. The plan was to get out before Baby Falls to check on it, and join the Huckfest folks or paddle downstream afterwards.
I joined the rest of our group that was already warming around and we paddled towards the bridge. The water was still clear, but the usual shallows below the bridge were padded out and it became obvious that the water was rising when I noticed that the double hump slide was covered with water and the usual eddies on RL and RR above the ledge were gone. At that point I knew I would get out and see for myself what is going on before attempting the next rapid. Trying to maintain distance we have all lined up for the usual line - Gavin and Bill ahead of me, Paul and Rob behind. I must have switched to full-on focus on timing a couple of feet above the ledge, when I realized that I can take proper forward strokes, with my entire blade vertical in the water and not touching any rocks.
As I was clearing the ledge at 12:08 it looked like God's Dam on Cheoah, but with a higher drop leading to it. Despite a good boof and landing where I wanted to land I could feel the pull on my stern. To escape and make room for Paul and Rob I had to paddle aggressively across the area that is normally blocked by the rocks. When I caught an eddy and looked back I saw that Paul and Rob are caught in the hole, trying to get upright. I attained upstream as far as I could while Gavin was on his way with the throw rope and Bill remained in the eddy downstream from me on RR. Seconds later I saw that both Paul and Rob are out of their boats. For a moment it looked like they wanted to retrieve their boats rather than swim out, but this was not the case. The area is fenced off with the downstream rocks, almost parallel to the curtain must have developed into a true keeper hole.
I caught the two paddles floating out from upstream, throw them onto the RL bank and got back to the position from which I could assist the swimmers flushing out of the hole on either side. Shortly thereafter I see Rob crawling onto the only rock sticking out of the water downstream from the hole. The river rose in the meantime and from the only remaining spot that allows me to stay midstream to quickly assist the swimmers I can't see at least half of the hole. I see the boats being repeatedly thrown around in the violent hydraulic and I see Gavin and Rob signaling each other. I do not see Paul anywhere.
Moments later I notice something orange floating down the slide on RR, that has now became a fast channel and realizing it is Paul, face-down. I yell for help to Gavin and Bill and race to get Paul's head out of the water. I am desperate to get him quickly to the shore. Reaching RL safely is out of question. Conditions are not safe anymore for getting out of the boat and risking a swim with him to the RR shore so I hold his head above the water downstream from me and try to maintain the ferry angle with the paddle in my right hand. Bill reaches us just above a downstream slide that developed into a rapid. Without Bill's assistance I would have to let go of Paul to avoid becoming a potential swimmer needing rescue myself.
We got out of the boats immediately in the RR eddy directly below the slide, and got Paul to the shore where Bill initiated the CPR. Bill did the compressions and I took over the ventilation, and we switch two more times during the next 25-30 minutes. A mix of water and food had to be removed from Paul's airway multiple times throughout the entire time, as they made the delivery of air virtually impossible. The CPR barrier mask I had with me proved invaluable throughout the rescue. By the end of the 25-30 minutes Paul's colors started to come back and I saw his chest rise on its own once or twice, then stop for a while. Switching to rescue breathing only he remains unconscious, but has a pulse and is breathing without assistance for periods of time.
Around 12:42 we get relief as kayakers that reached us from RL bank are and were ready with the ropes and a boat to transport Paul to the other shore, continuing CPR as necessary. Seconds later I am asked to assist as a safety boater to protect any potential swimmers on this transport. The line to the other shore looked as clean as it could be, but it was pretty obvious that anyone going with Paul to keep him breathing will be risking his life. I was very tired and communicated that to the folks coordinating the transport. Quickly realizing that finding another safety boater would take extra precious time I hopped in my kayak and got ready.
The river was considerably higher by that time, the only remaining part of the eddy from which we could start was in brush and trees. A stroke or two later I found myself broached on a underwater branch or a small tree, barely visible in the fluctuating brown water. By the time I get myself freed I realize the transport is in trouble as well and is immediately pulled back in where the CPR resumes while others hurry to rope together a raft out of three kayaks. Avoiding the mix of rope loops floating from a tree sticking out of the water I caught what looked to be the only micro eddy immediately downstream. I had to ask someone to hold my boat, or I would not be able to get out safely. Sitting in the eddy and starting that much below the raft would have no good outcome. The current was so swift that I would be swept into the next rapid before being able to approach any potential swimmers, making the situation worse than it was.
Immediately after getting out of the boat I helpes to carry Paul to the raft. I ask the lightest looking paddler to accompany Paul and keep him ventilated if he's not breathing by himself as they go across. They make it to the other shore as quickly and safely as possible and rush Paul to the truck to meet with the ambulance. Remaining on the RR bank were five paddlers, some without their boats. Extra boats were retrieved from the spot of the first CPR after some bushwhacking on a slippery bank and everyone was scrambling to get back to the RL with as much gear as possible. I walked as much towards the original CPR spot as I could to find a launch spot for a ferry. The channel was wider than before, with swift current and brush and small trees on the opposite bank that had to be avoided. Looking for a line I counted at least five large pieces of wood or small trees floating downstream. After finding the spot where I could immediately see anything washing down the slide I ferried to the RL bank where someone helped me out of the boat and took my boat up to the road. The time was ~13:10. I wanted to thank and praise everyone that helped us with the rescue. Without your huge effort Paul would not have had a fighting chance at the hospital.
I am absolutely sure he would have also done everything possible to save any other paddler in trouble. My condolences go to Paul's family, his many friends and the paddling community in general. We have all lost a wonderful guy, may he rest in peace.
Additional Notes: The times above were extracted from my Garmin workout monitor, and the timestamp of the last picture taken by the camera mounted on my kayak, which was taking photos at 2s intervals and malfunctioned and stopped recording just above the ledge.
1. Pocket CPR barrier which is maybe 1/3 of a size of Snickers bar is the most important thing any paddler trained in CPR can and should carry in his PFD pocket. Effective rescue breathing would not be possible without it, no matter how much one can control their reflexes.
2. It appears that Paul may have been pulled behind the curtain and recirculated there before he flushed out unconscious, limiting any possible chances of rescue from the mid-stream rock involving Rob. An account from a close call from a day later in the same spot suggests this place becomes a severe hazard at higher levels.
3. Creating an upstream paddlers gauge, as suggested on BT, is an excellent idea. In my opinion a road-visible gauge on the bridge would be useful, but would have not prevented this accident. A gauge by/on the rock across from the put-in, where everyone ferries over to to warm up would. If you look at the bridge and the level looks good, but then go change, put in and do some warmup the next time you float by the bridge you may not like what you see. It is not uncommon, especially on colder days, to spend some time warming up and waiting for the rest of the group to catch on before you float by the bridge. With little room to safely pull out afterwards during higher water, especially with a larger group that could mean there is a good chance someone that would want to take out right away will end up running the ledge because they have no other choice. As Chad's analysis suggests (the last page of this compilation) the local creeks were spiking around the time we were putting on, warming up and heading for the bridge. We are investigating the options for the put-in gauge.
4. From my limited experience the other accounts I have seen so far form a pretty tight timeline. I did not see any gaps, or possible ways to make the rescue faster, safer, or more effective given the circumstances. I could potentially see someone arguing the initial single boat transport attempt. Such a decision however ties up both limited resources and takes precious time. On a flooding river any extra delay may put the rescuers directly into harms way and result in many more victims. I am absolutely sure that the entire rescue was done in the fastest and safest way possible.
Norcross kayaker dies in Tennessee river accident
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, January 3, 2011
A 27-year-old kayaker from Norcross died Saturday from injuries he suffered while paddling the Tellico River in eastern Tennessee.
Porpon Pichanusakorn, a 2007 Georgia State graduate known as Paul, was paddling with an experienced group of kayakers when heavy morning rains caused the water level to rise dramatically, according to William Gatling, vice president of the Georgia Canoeing Association.
"Paul got caught in a hydraulic (hole)," Gatling wrote in an email. "CPR was performed and he was taken to Knoxville, where he later died."
Pichanusakorn was an avid kayaker who belonged to the Georgia Canoeing Association and Atlanta Whitewater Club. He started learning the sport at Georgia State's kayaking school. "He fell in love with it, got a boat," said a fellow kayaker and friend, Ben Riekhof, who was not on the trip. "He was very dedicated and committed to doing everything he could to get better. "He'd go up to anybody [at practices] and ask them questions," Riekhof added. "He was so enthusiastic about learning."
Riekhof found out what happened from a kayaker who was on the trip. "It's a freak thing -- this doesn't happen a lot in paddling," he said. "It's a risky sport, but the safety precautions that we take are high. "When they put on the river, they didn't realize the water level was rising at a very rapid rate," he said. "It rose five feet in a matter of hours."
Pichanusakorn was co-owner of Abby Iron Doors and the company's head designer. Based in Duluth, the company manufacturers wrought iron doors, wine cellar doors, and windows and balconies for residential and commercial projects.
A memorial service for Pichanusakorn will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at H.M. Patterson & Son Canton Hill Chapel in Marietta.