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Accident Description


The ‘Picket Fence' at Blossom Bar claims two more lives

Published: September 15, 2011

By Joel Summer

Call it déjà vu, or maybe a very bad dream, but almost three years to the week the ‘Picket Fence' at Blossom Bar claimed three lives; the same rapids some 56 miles up the Rogue River claimed two more. On Friday, September 2 at 2:30 p.m. the Curry County Sheriff's Office was notified of a capsized boat at Blossom Bar with a possible drowning. Sheriff John Bishop and Deputy Ted Heath responded to Foster Bar and then launched the marine boat to the location.

Upon arriving at Paradise Lodge the survivor of the incident, James Edward Stout, 58, was contacted and interviewed. Stout confirmed that when they had become stuck on a rock in Blossom Bar, William Burns Martindale, 58, had jumped overboard with a rope and attempted to swim to shore. It appeared the rope became entangled with Martindale and he disappeared underwater and never resurfaced.

Sheriff Bishop and Deputy Heath went to Blossom Bar and attempted to get to the boat but were unsuccessful. Martindale's body was not located or recovered. Due to the remoteness of the area, daylight fading, and Stout needing to get downriver, recovery operations were again started on Saturday morning. Stout and Millie (Martindale's dog) were transported downriver where Martindale's vehicle was recovered. Stout then was given a room and food since he had lost everything in the accident.

The Portland Medical Examiner's office was notified and they in turn notified Martindale's next of kin in the Portland area. A team of deputies then went to Blossom Bar the next morning and attempted to locate Martindale and to dislodge the boat and recover personal property. The teams consisted of Jackson County Marine Deputy Jason Denton, Fire District No. 3 swift water rescue swimmer Nathan Smith, a Jackson County marine boat along with Curry County's marine boats, and the Curry Sheriff's Search and Rescue swift water team. Also, Search and Rescue members Logan Couch, George Edwards, Bill Van Vliet, and Ryan McGinnis along with Sheriff Bishop, and Marine Deputies Heath and Wally Scherbarth.

Rescue members arrived at the scene and worked throughout the day using a special boat built by Ryan McGinnis to get to the rock where the boat was stuck and then attempted to locate Martindale's body, dislodge the boat, and to recover personal property from the boat. The personal property was recovered but Martindale's body was not, and due to the hydraulics of the water the boat could not be dislodged. The U.S. Forest Service was notified as well as the rafters and guides who have been coming through the area to be on the lookout and to be warned of the boat on the rocks. Jerry's Jet Boats out of Gold Beach was also alerted to the accident and was helping the Curry County Sheriff's Office.

Martindale's body recovered

On the morning of Wednesday, September 7 at 10 a.m. the Curry County Sheriff's Office was notified that the body of Martindale had been spotted near Horseshoe Bend Rapids. Curry County Deputies responded and completed the body recovery. The body then was released to Redwood Memorial at Foster Bar, and Martindale's brother was contacted and advised of the recovery. Second drowning 

Class IV rapids

"This is a stretch of the Rogue River which is known as a Class IV rapid. Class IV makes it a difficult level of challenge; long rapids with powerful, irregular waves, dangerous rocks and boiling eddies," said Patty Burel, former public affairs officer of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest back in 2008. "It takes a maximum degree of skill to run the river at this section, which is considered recreation in the Wild Section of the Rogue River. It takes precise maneuvering with scouting from the shore."

The Picket Fence is located at Blossom Bar's upper end and is so named because of a series of rocks in the river that make it appear that you are passing a picket fence. It is considered the most challenging rapid on the Rogue. "It requires a great deal of technical skill and maneuvering to avoid serious situations," added Burel. "Most people will start on the far left – and make a hard pull to the center to avoid the picket fence and move to the center eddy above the Picket Fence."

Longtime Jerry's Jet Boat pilot Tom Biggs told the Reporter in 2008: On the longer trips up the river, Blossom Bar is the ‘end of the road' so to speak at 56.1 miles up the river. That is where Biggs and the other river pilots turn around their boats. "Why people get in trouble up there is a combination of inexperience and stupidity," Biggs told the Reporter in 2008 when three people died at the Picket Fence at Blossom Bar. "If you do it right, our local guides tell me ‘it's a piece of cake.'" Biggs said that it is important that the rafters and kayakers start at the far left so they can make the hard right and avoid the Picket Fence. When rafters get stuck in the Picket Fence they usually pick a line further to the right directly into the Picket Fence instead of trying to avoid it. "People who get stuck hold on for dear life, but eventually they get cold and tired, lose their strength, and let go," said Biggs.

A storied history

The Blossom Bar site has a storied history, according to ‘The Rogue River – A Comprehensive Guide from Prospect to Gold Beach' by Matt Leidecker. Early settlers in the region named it for the lush azalea blooms that decorate the canyon. The high bar at the mouth of Burns and Blossom Creek has seen extensive mining over the years. In the early 1900s, miners hauled an ore stamp from Gold Beach to the base of Blossom Bar Rapids using a cable and a hand winch. The 5-ton mortar box was floated downstream from Grants Pass via boat in 1916. The mill was used to process gold ore packed from the Mule Mountain Mines upstream. Remains of the mill, ore tailings, and mortar box are located just upstream of the footbridge over Burns Creek.

The fact that Blossom Bar is located at the mouth of two steep drainages explains the abundance of boulders that clog the river. On early descents of the Rogue, Blossom Bar was so choked with boulders it was impossible to even reach the water flowing beneath the jumble of rocks. River runners like Glen Wooldridge and Dave Helfrich dynamited a navigable channel through by the mid-1930s and continued to open the rapid through the 1940s.

Search unsuccessful for Sherwood man who drowned at Blossom Bar on Rogue River

Published: Tuesday, September 06, 2011

By The Oregonian Curry

County Sheriff's Office The boat is wedged between rocks at Blossom Bar. Authorities haven't recovered the body of a Sherwood man who drowned last Friday when his boat got stuck on rocks at Blossom Bar on the wilderness section of the Rogue River. William Burns Martindale, 68, jumped off the wooden drift boat with a rope, but disappeared under the water after he apparently got entangled, Curry County sheriff's officials said today. His companion, James Edward Stout, 69, of Portland survived and was picked up by a passing rafter, Sheriff John Bishop said. Martindale's drowning was the first this year at the bar, a legendary Class IV rapids. Rescuers tried to dislodge the boat without success and are continuing to look for Martindale's body. The boat isn't a hazard and probably will stay wedged between rocks until the river level drops, Bishop said.

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, 21 people died on Oregon and southwest Washington waterways this year. -- The Oregonian