Accident Database

Report ID# 3487

  • Flush Drowning
  • High Water

Accident Description

Posted on 07/16/2011


Staff & Wire Reports

WILTON -- The Valley County Sheriff''s Office says a body found Saturday morning in the Payette River in central Idaho is likely that of 19-year-old Wilton kayaker Stephen Forster, who disappeared last month while floating the river with friends.

Authorities say the body was found in Boise County by another kayaker about 7 miles downstream from where Forster disappeared on June 28.

Forster was in an area of rapids classified as very difficult to extremely difficult when he submerged and didn''t resurface.

His kayak was later found about four miles downstream with heavy front-end damage.

Forster spent two years at Wilton High School before transfering to New River Academy, a college preparatory school for whitewater kayaking in Fayetteville, W. Va.


Matt Smink, director of New River Academy, said Forster was among his most promising students, who took his love for extreme kayaking and videography to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.


"In our school, he was our student leader," Smink said. "He was our best kayaker. He always set a great example for the other kids."




Smink said Forster would have had a promising career as a professional kayaker or videographer. "I saw a lot of potential in him," he said.


Expert kayaker Brian Ward was paddling on the Payette with a group that included Forster when the incident occurred, Smink said. The group was entering a rugged stretch of rapids known as "Bad Jose" when Forester got in trouble, he said.


Ward was too distraught after the incident to speak about it, but he offered some kind words for his late friend.


"He was a phenomenal kayaker," Ward said, "but even more so, he was a phenomenal person."


A memorial service was scheduled for Forster on Saturday morning at Wilton Congregational Church, 70 Ridgefield Road, Wilton.

In Memory Stephen Forster

The B Real Blog - Brian Ward -

I first met Stephen in the parking lot of Eagle Creek in Oregon. He and his buddies were about to hike their kayaks five miles to paddle Skoonichuck Falls, Punchbowl Falls, and 80 ft Metlako Falls. We told them it was getting a little late to start their hike, but they were on a mission. Stephen completed his mission that evening, dropping Metlako Falls at dusk, and returned the very next day and lapped Metlako at flood stage six times.

The next time I saw Stephen, I was on tour with, “Wild Water a Love Story.” Will Parham and I had stopped in at Blacksburg, VA at Virginia Tech for a showing and were pleasantly surprised to see Stephen. We talked about Idaho and the North Fork Payette and I recommended that if he was ever on the West Coast to stop by and paddle. Three months later, Stephen was in Idaho ready to rally.

This was Stephen’s first time paddling the Payette River system and by the time I caught up with him he had already paddled two lower fives and a lower seven on the North Fork Payette at 4,000cfs. I had just recovered from a triceps injury, so I asked Stephen if he would be interested in paddling a play run down the South Fork Payette. Without hesitation, Stephen was excited about paddling a new run. We had a successful paddle with lots of big water kick flips, wave wheals, and huge smiles.

I was feeling recovered and Stephen was all fired up after our South Fork run, so we decided to paddle a lower five North Fork. Stephen not only paddled the lower five, he hand paddled the lower five at 4,000cfs and styled it. There has only been and handful of people to accomplish this goal at these flows or higher, names include Doug Ammons and Jimmy Grossman

The next day Stephen and I put in for a lower eight North Fork, bottom of Golf Course to Banks. To get us equipped for the upper and middle North Fork, I hit every hole and took the hardest lines I could find and Stephen followed suit. After an amazing paddle, we headed up to camp for the evening with talk about putting in below Nutcracker the next morning.

On Tuesday 28th, 2011, Stephen and I had our friend Justin Crannell drop us off at the top of Disneyland on the upper North Fork at 4,300cfs. With fist pumps and a couple of yelps, we paddled in the chaotic waters ahead. Our eyes where wide and hearts happy with our completion of Disneyland and S-turn and we wanted more.

On our way up to Disneyland, we had stopped and scouted sections of the middle five and talked about the magnitude of the middle compared to what we had been paddling. Floating through Big Eddy, I asked Stephen how he was feeling and with a huge smile and bright eyes he responded, “Feelin Good!” With sprits high and paddling strong, we decided to push on into the middle five.

We paddled under Swinging Bridge, stopped and splashed Conrad Fourney’s plaque, and then turned and paddled in to the mayhem of Slide. You feel the immediate difference in power once you drop into the middle five and know you’re in a unique place that not many people get to experience. The waves are larger, rapids steeper, and more continues than any section on the North Fork. Personally, this section of river is one of the largest and most continuous sections of whitewater I have ever paddled.

We caught an eddy on river left after slide to catch our breath and regroup. Next was Bad Jose, No Where to Run, Chaos, and Bouncer Down the Middle. At normal flows there are small pools in between each rapid allowing time for recovery, but at flows of 3,000cfs or higher they become one large rapid making it a “no swim situation.”

We dropped into Bad Jose and quickly rounded the corner into No Where to Run. Because of the higher flows, we took the river left channel to help avoid the rock jumbles in the middle and the massive holes lurking on river right. I spot checked for Stephen behind me, but didn’t see him. I eddied out hard river left and still had no sign of him. I knew at this point if he wasn’t in sight that he was caught in the “catcher’s mitt” hole upstream on river left.

After about an 8 to 10 second rodeo Stephen was out of his boat floating heads up swiftly downstream. He floated pass the eddy and was still in the main current, so I peeled out of the eddy and gave chase. I caught up with Stephen just before Chaos and tried to get him on the stern of my boat, but the water was too swift. I turned and paddled hard through Chaos and caught an eddy hard river right above Bouncer Down the Middle. Stephen, exhausted, was still caught in the main current and floating rapidly towards the river right channel of Bouncer. Stephen rolled and faced upstream, but was too tired to make to shore and floated into Bouncer.

I ferried hard river left into Bouncer and lost sight of Stephen for the first time since starting the chase. I realized there was little chance of Stephen surviving the rest of his swim through Bouncer.

The river bent hard left and there was a slight lull before it bent back right into Lower Bouncer. Stephen got flushed out of the main channel and pushed far river right towards a rocky side channel. I could see that his PFD was floating high around his ribs and he was heads down. I cautiously paddled into the channel and followed closely behind, until Stephen dropped over a five foot poor over, went deep and I passed him.

I rounded the corner into Lower Bouncer and out of my peripheral vision saw Stephen get body surfed to the top of the hole/wave on river right. I quickly eddied out river right and began to scan for Stephen. After about a min, his boat and paddle floated by, so I decided to get out of my boat and look for him. I blew my whistle and yelled his name, but there was no response. The banks were way to steep and overgrown to search efficiently, so I jumped back in my boat a paddled down 50 yards to an accessible take out.

While hiking upstream, my friend Rory Mehen was driving back to Boise on Hwy 55and saw me. By the time he turned around, I had already reached the Lower Bouncer pull out. I told him I couldn’t find Stephen and he needed to go Cougar Mountain Lodge and call for help. Rory spend off for help and I put-in just up stream of where I saw Stephen last. I paddled lower bouncer to Jacobs’ Ladder with no sigh of Stephen. All I found was his paddle pinned on a tree in the run-in to Jacobs Ladder.

While trying to flag down a vehicle to take me back up stream, I saw a figure walk across the street downstream into the mile 86 campground. I ran down as quickly as possible in hopes of some miracle that it was Stephen. I asked the campground host if he had seen anyone walk into the campground and he had, they were in the restroom. I ran towards the restroom, yelled Stephen’s name, and heard the restroom door unlock. It was my friend Darcy Gaechter, my heart sank. As Darcy and I dashed down towards mile marker 86, I could see Ryan Casey and Don Beveridge.

A motorist saw Casey at Hounds Tooth and told him they saw a boat floating downstream, but didn’t see a person. Casey geared up and retrieved Stephen’s boat about a mile down from Hounds, then rushed upstream until he ran into Don at mile marker 86. Casey and I headed upstream to Lower Bouncer, while Don and Darcy waited at 86 and watch for any sign of Stephen.

Casey and I paddle from Lower Bouncer to Jacobs’ Ladder, portaged Jacobs, put-in with Don at 86, and had Darcy for road support. We paddled the next eight miles to Banks scouring the banks, but there was no sign of Stephen.

By this time the river community had been alerted of the accident and was in full force looking for Stephen. About three hours after Stephen’s swim, his PFD was found three miles north of Banks in and eddy above Otter Slide.

Stephen was an amazing paddler, but an even more amazing person. He brought energy to the river that feed positivity and got you excited about life. Stephen will be greatly missed by his family and friends.

I want to thank everyone mentioned in the above article for all of their help searching for Stephen. I would also like to give a large thanks to Bear Valley Rafting, Cascade Raft and Kayak, and the Valley County Police for efforts in searching the Main Payette. Thank you to everyone for your love and support during these hard times.



Kayaker missing from the north fork of the Payette River

- Idaho Statesman

Published: 06/28/11

Valley County officials are looking for a kayaker missing from the North Fork of the Payette River. The missing kayaker is a 19-year-old man. The call came into Valley County Sheriff's Office at 11:48 a.m. Tuesday that a kayaker was missing near milepost 88 on Idaho 55. Deputies, Cascade Rural Fire and Forest Service officials responded and assisted in a search for the missing kayaker. According to a release, the kayaker disappeared in a class 4 to class 5 rapids area. The man was wearing a vest and helmet and is considered an expert, the release said. The man's kayak and paddle were recovered as of 6 p.m., searchers have failed to locate the man. Officials said an investigation is ongoing and the man's name has not been released.

Kayaker goes missing on N. Fork of Payette River

KTVB-TV updated 6/29/2011 Font:

BOISE -- Authorities have called off the search for 19-year-old male kayaker who went missing on the North Fork of Payette River Tuesday morning. The Valley County Sheriff's Office was notified shortly before noon about a missing kayaker near milepost 88 on Highway 55, about 10 miles north of Banks. Lt. Dan Smith says the man is an expert kayaker who had some type of accident and was last seen swimming toward shore, but went under the water and was not seen again. He was wearing a life-vest and helmet. The front end of the kayak was smashed and the foot rest was broken, according to Smith. The kayak and paddle were recovered.

The man's name has not been released. We are told he is not from the area and had just met up with a couple of other kayakers Tuesday morning before heading out to the river. About 30 people assisted in the search. Smith says they combed every bit of the area but came up empty. Deputies and EMS members from Cascade Rural Fire, as well as a Forest Service officer responded to the scene to assist in the search along with friends of the missing man. The North Fork of the Payette River is well known for its class 4 and 5 rapids, which is for experts only.


Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!