Kiwi's horror kayaking death
By Anna Leask
Friday Jun 24, 2011
A Kiwi kayaker who watched in horror as his best mate drowned in a Canadian waterfall spoke last night of the frantic and heartbreaking effort to rescue the 20-year-old. Simon Davidson, from Cambridge, was kayaking down the Red Creek in Canada's Banff National Park on Tuesday when his kayak overturned, throwing him into the rapids. He had been in Canada for only six weeks, living in the British Columbia town of Golden and working as a rafting instructor.
His best friend, Matt Burton, was filming Mr Davidson's tragic last run from the top of the waterfall and spoke exclusively to the Herald last night. "I was standing right there, I was filming him from the top of the waterfall. I watched him drown in front of me," he said. "He paddled off the waterfall and completely disappeared. And then his paddle popped up out of the waterfall. "I saw the bottom of his boat briefly, then his paddle floated out, then his boat floated out, and he floated out unconscious. "No one could get to him. He just kept on floating down through the gorges ... I was screaming at people to try to get him."
Mr Burton and another Kiwi kayaker, Blair Trotman, paddled Red Creek before Mr Davidson. "It was reasonably high water, but it was still a runable waterfall," Mr Burton said. "Me and Blair ran it and there were no problems at all. We had an adequate safety set-up. "It wasn't Simon's turn. But he was just so excited and fired up to run it. He had a big grin on his face. I said good luck to him and that was the last thing I ever said to him." As Mr Davidson's body floated further down the gorge, Mr Burton scrambled into a kayak to follow him. "I paddled as hard as I could, didn't look back, didn't stop, didn't think. I just tried to chase my best mate down the river. "I saw his kayak and couldn't find him. I didn't know if I'd passed him, all I knew was that I had to keep on going. "I saw him on the right side of the river. He was face down, swirling around in the water. I just couldn't get to him. It was just me; no one else was there. I couldn't get to him. I couldn't get to my best mate. I didn't know what to do."
Mr, Burton was flushed further down the river and scrambled out of the water. "I was pretty much rock-climbing across a sheer cliff to try to get to him. I couldn't go any further. I ended up stuck on a ledge just screaming for someone to come and help, watching him just go around." Mr Burton said he knew hope was lost for his mate. Mr Davidson had gone into the water at 2.50pm but was not pulled until after 5pm. "We cut off his lifejacket and took off his helmet and did CPR for about 20 minutes until the helicopter turned up. "I held his hand. I didn't really know what else to do."
Paramedics on the helicopter winched Mr Davidson out of the gorge. His body will be brought home to New Zealand as soon as Canadian authorities have completed a post-mortem examination. It is understood Mr Davidson's parents are on their way home from Malaysia, and his brother is flying home from Switzerland.
Mr Burton does not know what he will do with the film of his mate's last run. "I don't know if I want to watch it. I don't know what's going to happen. It hasn't even sunk in yet. Every now and then I have a really big cry, but I haven't come to terms. "I don't even know how I feel. I'm numb."
Mr Burton taught Mr Davidson how to kayak and took him for his first run down the Huka Falls, near Taupo. Mr, Davidson studied adventure tourism at the Queenstown Resort College, then moved to Taupo to train with Mr Burton at Kiwi River Safaris. Mr Burton said he felt "very responsible" for Mr Davidson. "He was like my little brother, I loved him more than anything. I'd have done anything for him. "He was my best friend in the whole world. He's the most lively person, always smiling, always happy. I don't know a person that could say something bad about Simon - everyone loved him."
Back in New Zealand, Mr Davidson's friends were also paying tribute to him. Anthony Longman told the Herald he met Mr Davidson a couple of years ago. The pair bonded through their passion for kayaking. On his Facebook page, Mr Longman said Mr Davidson was an inspiration in everything that he did. "You loved life, and chose to live it to the maximum. Your infectious smile and stoke for all things good will be remembered. Paddle forever." - additional reporting Amelia Wade