Accident Database

Report ID# 3553

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Spinal Injury
  • Other

Accident Description

Kayaker airlifted from American River

27-year-old in serious condition after 30-foot drop from waterfall

By Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor

A New Hampshire man is in serious condition after he was airlifted during a night rescue from the American River. News of the Tuesday night rescue was released Thursday afternoon by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. At about 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, the sheriff’s air support unit was dispatched to a remote area of the American River near Health Springs in the Tahoe National Forest to rescue a kayaker. Nathan Warren, 27, reportedly landed wrong after a drop from a 30-foot waterfall and “severely injured his back,” according to Lt. Mark Reed with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.

“This section of the American River is very remote but attracts extreme kayakers because of its rapids and waterfalls,” Reed said. Sgt. Van Bogardus, who is the chief pilot for the air unit, along with deputies Ashley Smentek and Josh Shelton, responded to the call and arrived on scene at about 8:30 p.m. “His friends had to hike out to get cell reception,” Bogardus said. “Cal Fire originally had the call but they had to turn it over to us because they had no resources capable of rescuing the guy from the river canyon where he was.” Bogardus said a number of factors – high attitude, a rocky hillside, having to use night goggles, and needing to refuel – led to a three-hour rescue before Warren was hoisted out of the rural terrain on a backboard and to a care flight air ambulance waiting at Blue Canyon Airport. Bogardus added that initially the crew made contact with a group from New Zealand that was within the area, who directed the pilot further up the river where Warren was waiting.

Warren was flown to Sutter Roseville Medical Center. He was listed in serious condition as of Thursday afternoon, according to hospital spokeswoman Robin Montgomery. Reach Jenifer Gee at

By 930 we had given up hope of Nate being rescued that night. He was in severe pain and we couldn't rule out internal bleeding or pneumothorax, so we were all really worried. When we heard the chopper heading up the canyon, we could have cried for joy. I'm writing in now to express my deepest thank you to Ashley Smentek, Josh Shelton and Van Bogardus for braving the inhospitable conditions and pulling Nate out of that gorge. We also owe great thanks to Placer County and all who have supported the process of equipping and training the rescue crew, They did a fine job and kept a very professional, friendly demeanor despite the frustration of unusually adverse conditions. Hats off to the crew!

Nate is doing relatively well. T1 was completely obliterated, and T2-4 suffered moderate to severe compression. He also did turn out to have a small pneumothorax. Rapid transport and a topnotch neurosurgery/neurotrauma crew at Sutter Roseville enabled stabilization with donor bone grafts and hardware. Nate expects a difficult but full recovery over the next year or so, and will return to kayaking, but perhaps not to waterfalls. Thanks again, from the bottom of our hearts, for rescuing Nate. Just getting him out of the gorge 150 feet up to the flat spot took nine people and over an hour, and was horrifying for Nate, even with a sturdy home-built litter and rope belay. I cannot imagine the pain he would have suffered being carried the entire way out of the main canyon!

Here's a pic of waterfall in question.

I was paddling with another group but at Heath Springs area at the same time as Nate's group and helped in the rescue. Very lucky that the Placer County Sheriff now has this helicopter rescue crew. Apparently the program is new as of last November when PC Sheriff was able to get the training and equipment through grants.

This rescue was the first by the helicopter crew of an injured person. All others were either lost, drunk, or dead. Huge thanks to Ashley Smentek who lowered out of the helicopter to get Nate "packaged" for pick up, as well as the crew up in the air, Van Bogardus and Josh Shelton.

A SPOT clearly would have been helpful in this case, not only for shortening the time to contact EMS, but also in providing a location, as time and fuel were spent in landing and contacting another group.

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