Accident Database

Report ID# 3578

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  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

My name is Catherine Blanchette and I am the one who held on to the victim on the water that day. Here is the whole story of what happened.

The rapid where all this started is situated between Powerline and CrystalFalls. At that place, the river separates in two ways. Left ride is just water, right side shows one drop, small with a not that much dangerous looking.

Three of my friends went first without any problem and so I did. The paddler that was following me did different and stayed stuck in the hydraulic at the bottom of the drop. We raised paddles to send a “NO” sign for upstream people, but the last member of our party was to close and could not stop himself. He paddled backward to give time for the kayaker for working him out of the hydraulic, but it was not enough. At the last moment, he saw the kayaker and changed direction to prevent a hit between the two paddlers. They hit themselves a bit I think, which allowed the first paddler to get the shore, but my friend stayed stuck.

I was 20 feet downstream. I could see the boat in the hydraulic, but not the paddler… When I realized he was still there, 30 seconds had passed… There were two kayakers right beside the drop, waiting in small eddies, but the configuration of the drop and its shores did not allowed them to get out of their boat easily. The person on right shore succeeded to get out of his boat and throw a rope, but the rope came back empty.

My friend stayed in the water for 1-1.30 min before being released, not moving, head down. Two kayakers paddled up to him and grabbed him to lift his head up. Unfortunately, they hit a big stone and both lost the victim. The victim sank and when he came back to the surface, he was right in front of me. I took him by his PFD and looked at his face. He was white, with deep blue lips, and eyes completely out of their orbits. That’s where I really realized that we were in a big mess….

I started paddling to the right shore the best I could. I just had one hand, so I did not have much power. So I tried to direct us through the drops and the rapids in order to pass them in the best way possible. I did not know what to do. I yelled so much so maybe someone could help me, but I was not in a really helpable situation with CrystalFalls’ coming… My friend was behind me, but he decided to reach the shore instead of following me. He did not know the river and he did not want to be the second victim. He made the best choice.

I could not see well what was going on. I had a reduced vision, centered on what was in front of me, only for a couple of feet. If anybody would have thrown me a rope elsewhere than right in front of me, I would not have seen it, unless you do the perfect throwing as one guy did. I was paddling when I saw a rope landing on my skirt, from one side all the way down to the second one. It took me a second or two to understand what it was and to release my paddle to grab the rope. Unfortunately, the weight of two people and one kayak was too much… I choose the victim instead of the rope, that I released.

I found back my paddle and continued to paddle to the shore. I think that the very high water level opened a new way on extreme right shore, where I've been able to bring both of us. I did a final drop (around 6’ one) and then, the current was way less heavy, so someone jumped in the water and caught the victim.

When I did the final drop, I heard him groaning for the first time, and I told myself, he is breathing! During all the time I was holding on to him on the water, I was afraid I would have to do CPR. Hearing him groaning was a big relief. So when we reached the shore and got him out of water, we put him on his back to open his throat and give him the best chances to breath. I placed myself at his head, because I wanted him to hear a known voice, and in his mother tongue (French). We took of his PFD, his helmet and cut down his drysuit. He was groaning more and more and then started to react to his environment and to move slowly. As the other writer said, liquid started to bubble out his mouth so we tried to move him on the side to prevent that he suffocates. At that time, he really came back to our world and wanted to sit down. He did not have consciousness of the past minutes. In his mind, he had just got out of the hydraulic.

As he was quite alert and breathing well, he got back on his feet and raised the first cliff. He walked around 150 feet before sitting down, exhausted. The ambulance had been advised and the first responders reached us there. We gave him oxygen and he stayed there a couple of minutes, down on his back. Then, he began to throw up. The liquid was red, so we began worrying about internal injuries. We asked him about it and he answered that he had drank a lot of red Gatorade on the river. We laugh a lot… quite a relief for us!!

He finally did the whole walk back to the ambulance by himself. First tests in the ambulance showed a “perfect” shape. He was completely alert and conscious, knew the day, the hour, his address and phone number. No respiratory distress, no wound, injury, aches. As we all were from Quebec, going in an American hospital would have cost him a big lot of money. And as he were stable and in relatively good shape, we decided our friend would drove him the fastest up to the border and that they would knock on an hospital door the minute they would arrive in Canada.

As for today’s update, my friend is in perfect shape and don’t have any consequences of that accident. No water in his lungs, perfect blood tests, and he is not traumatized either. As for the “dead body” I have been holding to on the water, I may say that he is a survivor, nothing less.

Here are some thoughts I had after that rescue.

Keep your equipment close and easy to reach. My whistle was right in front of me, but the panic made it impossible to reach, so I kept yelling. If your equipment is not easy to reach, you will never find it in an emergency.

In a different river configuration (less water, less dangerous rapids) I could have done things differently. I could have attached the victim to my tow rope and use both hands to paddle hard to the shore (making sure to keep his head up). As my friend was close to me, I could also have been holding on to his tow rope, so he would have towed us to the shore, my hand still holding the victim.

Although his drysuit full of air and his PFD may have contributed to keep him in between in the hydraulic, they made him floating more which allowed me to keep his head up more easily.

Someone told me that the short moment I hold on the rope is the key that prevented us to move up to the worst part of Crystal. I could not say yes or no to this, but what I say, is that every single action contributed to save my friend’s life.

And the most important is coming.

I was the one that held on to the victim on the water, so I may be remembered as the one who saved his life. But I want to say that we were a group of five that day. The victim was our friend, and all of us four, did what we could do, to save his life. So I have been the one bringing him up to the shore, but we all saved his life. And I need to say that others paddlers helped us too, as the one who threw the rope in the hydraulic, the one who first grabbed the victim with my other friend, the one who made the perfect hit while throwing me a rope, the one who jumped in the water to catch the victim, the ones that reached us to the shore and helped to cut the clothes and secure the victim, ready to do CPR, the volunteers and first responders. And all the others who were there, ready to give any help possible.

WE ALL MADE THAT RESCUE A SUCCESS AND WE ALL SAVED MY FRIEND’S LIFE.

 

Paddle safe with people on whom you rely, because they could save your life someday.

On Saturday, 15, 2011 on the Bottom Section of the Moose River there was an incident involving an unknown kayak. This was Moose Fest weekend and there was a plethora of paddlers. The water level was high, around 5.2 Feet. My understanding is something was up with the dam in the middle of the Bottom Moose and that what they call the Bottom Bottom Moose was going to be higher. Not being a local, I did not fully understand how this logic worked.

At this level, Powerline, the rapid above Crystal had some really big close rolling hydraulics stacked in a row. They are not keepers and flushy but they are big and were eager to knock kayakers over and if you hit one, and got surfed, you would surf out but stall all momentum for the next one and likely flip. I would perceive rolling in this maelstrom would be difficult. At this level the runout of Powerline quickly became the approach to Crystal.

At about 3pm I was scouting Crystal Rapid. At this level Crystal rapid created an easier channel down the far river right side. Looking upstream, I noticed a kayaker holding an individual by his PFD with his right hand and holding his paddle with left hand trying to get the individual to shore while yelling for help. The person was face up, and you could tell he was non responsive by the way his body, hands and feet were floating. A few of us noticed it and rushed to down the steep embankment to provide assistance.

The right channel has a split and both drops are at least 6 feet high. A person was able to jump in the water and pin the floating person against a rock at the brink of going over the drop to the right. A second or two later, myself and a few others arrived. We quickly pulled him out of the water on to a rock. His eyes were glassed over, his skin was extremely pale and no one was sure if he was breathing. I think everyone there, myself included, thought we were going to have to do CPR so we immediately started preparing.

We quickly removed his pfd and helmet and positioned him as best as possible. At this point, he started gurgle breathing. It was very short breathes with water and bubbles coming out of his mouth along with phlegm and some traces of blood.

He was wearing a drysuit and someone suggested cutting it to allow him to get air easier. We cut the gasket and down the front. At this point, he finally blinked his eyes once then again a couple of times. Slowly he then moved his fingers and started wanting to sit up.

At this point, there was a large contingency of people there. More than needed for a small space and he was initially stable and those that were with his party wanted to assist so I decided to depart and let his fellow paddlers assist in getting him out. Crystal is the last major rapid on the Bottom Moose and the take out was just a short hike through the woods.

Notes:

I believe the man was from Canada and a couple of the people at the scene were Canadian and speaking what I perceived as French. Not sure if they spoke English.

The gentleman that cut the gasket and drysuit was cutting down while I was holding the material. I was afraid he would possible cut his throat or chest area. I suggested he stick the knife under and cut up and away from the person to prevent this possibility. He did not do that, I am not sure if this was due to the language barrier, lack of my explanation or something else?

A person made a comment about checking his pulse to see if we needed to do CPR. I said if he is breathing, even shallow and gurgling, that he has to have a pulse. It may have been weak or low but at that point, we were just trying to stabilize him. In 20 years of CPR classes, I have been taught that if they are breathing they have to have a pulse. This person mentioned that his breathing might be a reactionary event do the water intake. I never heard of that and thought it was hogwash but not sure if such a thing can happen??

I am not sure how the person arrived in the water. I have a feeling that it was probably due to a swim at Powerline, the rapid above Crystal. I would speculate one of two scenarios, a possible flush drowning from the long swim or he hit his head during the swim and was knocked unconscious.

I heard a rumor at the bar that night that when the ambulance arrived, that he refused care and was being driven back to Canada to get care. Canada is country with free healthcare. Not sure if that rumor was true or not.

I do not know if the person in the kayak that was holding on to him was in his group or not but he saved this man's life. He was putting himself in great risk to try to get this man to shore particularly at a very serious rapid and at a high water level. I feel that if this man did not have the kayakerâs assistance he would have washed through Crystal, and would have GREATLY decreased his chances of surviving.

 http://boatertalk.com/forum/BoaterTalk/1052318702/

On Saturday, 15, 2011 on the Bottom Section of the Moose River there was an incident involving an unknown kayak. This was Moose Fest weekend and there was a plethora of paddlers. The water level was high, around 5.2 Feet. My understanding is something was up with the dam in the middle of the Bottom Moose and that what they call the Bottom Bottom Moose was going to be higher. Not being a local, I did not fully understand how this logic worked.

At this level, Powerline, the rapid above Crystal had some really big close rolling hydraulics stacked in a row. They are not keepers and flushy but they are big and were eager to knock kayakers over and if you hit one, and got surfed, you would surf out but stall all momentum for the next one and likely flip. I would perceive rolling in this maelstrom would be difficult. At this level the runout of Powerline quickly became the approach to Crystal. At about 3pm I was scouting Crystal Rapid. At this level Crystal rapid created an easier channel down the far river right side. Looking upstream, I noticed a kayaker holding an individual by his PFD with his right hand and holding his paddle with left hand trying to get the individual to shore while yelling for help. The person was face up, and you could tell he was non responsive by the way his body, hands and feet were floating. A few of us noticed it and rushed to down the steep embankment to provide assistance.

The right channel has a split and both drops are at least 6 feet high. A person was able to jump in the water and pin the floating person against a rock at the brink of going over the drop to the right. A second or two later, myself and a few others arrived. We quickly pulled him out of the water on to a rock. His eyes were glassed over, his skin was extremely pale and no one was sure if he was breathing. I think everyone there, myself included, thought we were going to have to do CPR so we immediately started preparing. We quickly removed his pfd and helmet and positioned him as best as possible. At this point, he started gurgle breathing. It was very short breathes with water and bubbles coming out of his mouth along with phlegm and some traces of blood. He was wearing a drysuit and someone suggested cutting it to allow him to get air easier. We cut the gasket and down the front. At this point, he finally blinked his eyes once then again a couple of times. Slowly he then moved his fingers and started wanting to sit up. At this point, there was a large contingency of people there. More than needed for a small space and he was initially stable and those that were with his party wanted to assist so I decided to depart and let his fellow paddlers assist in getting him out.

Crystal is the last major rapid on the Bottom Moose and the take out was just a short hike through the woods. Notes: I do believe the man was from Canada and a couple of the people at the scene were Canadian and speaking what I perceived as French. Not sure if they spoke English. The gentleman that cut the gasket and drysuit was cutting down while I was holding the material. I was afraid he would possible cut his throat or chest area. I suggested he stick the knife under and cut up and away from the person to prevent this possibility. He did not do that, I am not sure if this was due to the language barrier, lack of my explanation or something else? A person made a comment about checking his pulse to see if we needed to do CPR. I said if he is breathing, even shallow and gurgling, that he has to have a pulse. It may have been weak or low but at that point, we were just trying to stabilize him. In 20 years of CPR classes, I have been taught that if they are breathing they have to have a pulse. This person mentioned that his breathing might be a reactionary event do the water intake. I never heard of that and thought it was hogwash but not sure if such a thing can happen??

I am not sure how the person arrived in the water. I have a feeling that it was probably due to a swim at Powerline, the rapid above Crystal. I would speculate one of two scenarios, a possible flush drowning from the long swim or he hit his head during the swim and was knocked unconscious.

I heard a rumor at the bar that night that when the ambulance arrived, that he refused care and was being driven back to Canada to get care. Canada is country with free healthcare. Not sure if that rumor was true or not.

I do not know if the person in the kayak that was holding on to him was in his group or not but he saved this man's life. He was putting himself in great risk to try to get this man to shore particularly at a very serious rapid and at a high water level. I feel that if this man did not have the kayakers assistance he would have washed through Crystal, and would have GREATLY decreased his chances of surviving.

It was a shit show on the Moose that day. I bet I saw more swims in that one day then I have in the last 3 years added up. I lost track the number of swimmers I saw at Ager's Falls the few minutes that I was there. At one point I could look up stream and see three swimmers at once. At least 3 boats came floating down empty to Crystal. I saw another person holding a shoulder while sitting in a raft below Shureform. I saw a guy at the bar that night that had to get stitches on his forehead. It was one of the weirdest paddling days. ''I was not afraid for myself. I was not afraid for the people paddling in my group. I was afraid for the people paddling around us.''

Basically, a non-responsive boater was rescued halfway through Crystal, after swimming from Powerline. VERY dangerous. The deal is, on the Bottom, 5 feet isn't usually 5 ft. That is, the first four rapids are 5 ft, but then at the dam after Double Drop, the power station impounds water. So, Crystal and the others at 5 ft aren't much different from 3 ft. But a lightning strike hit the power station back in May or sometime, so it's been down. All the water heads downstream.

So lots of boaters hit the Bottom, not realizing that this wasn't anything like the Moose that they were accustomed to. I spoke to many who had no real problems (though some weren't too proud to walk and sneak some), but...there were some real carnage stories. (The word I heard Saturday afternoon was that there'd been four ambulance dispatches to the Bottom takeout that day!) All four of the rapids below the dam--Ager's, Shurform, Powerline, and Crystal--were way scary.

Before the weekend, Chris Koll had posted, to numerous message boards that this would not be your mother's 5.x level. Some understood; many didn't. On Saturday, I saw him on the Lower. He said that *he* didn't want anything to do with the Bottom at a seriously real 5.x level. Dammit, if that's too high for Chris Koll, I sure as hell don't belong there. I'm happy that I hit the Lower--which, unfortunately, we're reminded also has some significant hazards.

Matt Muir

Here are the victim’s commentaries

This emergency situation happened even though I followed lots of water safety classes, I had good risk management knowledge and that I am a guide on other rivers. Nobody is fully protected against an accident.

Mistakes that caused that accident are easy to avoid. Here they are.

Water level was way higher that I thought it would be (5,5 feet vs. 3,5). But as I had done 500 km for it, I decided to do it

I was paddling with better kayakers than me. I was afraid to slow them and I did not tell them my fear.

I am used to scout the harder rapids before doing them. But that day, I have done most of them without scouting first. Hopefully, nothing happened to me while doing them.

The high quantity of paddlers on the river that day made me think I was invincible.

Even though the drop was easy to do, I underestimated the consequences of being swimming it.

Upstream the drop, a group of kayakers shifted me. And as I feared that others may shift me again and that my friends would wait for me, I decided to go, even though I did not receive the “GO” sign from them. But that time, one kayaker stayed stuck in the hydraulic and when I received the “NO” sign, it was too late, I could not stop myself. I succeeded to avoid the kayaker, but I did not have enough speed so I flipped over and stayed stuck too. If people had waited for their turn before going through the drop and if the communication had been better between me and the others, such situation would never have happened.

I needed speed to succeed in that drop. In order not to hurt the paddler, I slowed down and stayed stuck. On another hand, if I had accelerated, I could have hurt may more the paddler and create another emergency situation.

I got in a panic, so I lost my breath faster.

There was nobody on the shore, with a throw rope, ready to assist. By the time one paddler succeeded to stand up and throw the rope, it was too late.

Here are the strengths that made that rescue a success and that save my life.

We were paddling in a group of five all day long. I have never been alone and someone was waiting in his boat, in an eddy close to the hydraulic, ready to help. The others were further down, ready too.

We all were experienced and trained in wild water safety and first aid. That way, we all had a good knowledge to react better in such situation.

My drysuit kept me warm and the air inside it, as well as my PFD, helped to keep my head out of water more easily.

Even though that experience had been crazy, I am happy to be safe and to not have any consequences. I now know that drowning can be really fast. Don’t do the same mistakes I have done! Wild water is a passion for me. I am not traumatised and I will continue to paddle. Stupid mistakes almost cost me my life. Let’s all learn from my mistakes and let eliminate them of our way to paddle. 

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