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Accident Description


Regarding incident on Nolichucky Gorge on 8/11/2018, I identified female age 48. I was involved on the river that day and it is also a family member.   Cause of death was unknown, assumed heart attack. Update after autopsy report is that it was actually a  ruptured brain aneurysm. Thought this would be useful as there would be different protocol in this situation in the future compared to a heart attack.

Incident Report from Mountain River Guides, Inc (dba USA Raft)

Date of Incident: 8/11/18   Location: Nolichucky River/Gorge Section Poplar, NC to Erwin, TN

Overview of Incident:

On Saturday Aug. 11, 2018 a 48 yr old female guest had a heart attack and did not survive while in a commercial raft on the Nolichucky Gorge. She was never in the water and there were no special circumstances to cause this.

The incident occurred in quarter mile rapid, about 1.5-1.75 miles into the 1:30pm Gorge half day trip. While in an eddy setting safety, the guest complained of dizziness and not feeling well at 2:45. Almost immediately after her complaint, she collapsed in the raft where sitting.

The guide of the raft she was in thoughtfully had the crew paddle the raft to the other side of the river where there is train track access. Full CPR was immediately initiated by an EMT, another guest in the raft and continued by staff with assistance from more guests on the trip, which happened to be active nurses. The safety boater on trip was sent upstream on the railroad tracks towards Poplar, NC to gain cellular service to call the outpost and update us on the incident that was occurring. We received the call around 3pm and immediately called Mitchell County EMS.

While this was going on another guide paddled with his crew across the river to get the backboard that we leave on the river for emergencies (several are strategically placed below the largest rapids out of view by the rafting outfitters but available to all paddlers). The guest was placed on the backboard at the riverside site with CPR still being performed. She was eventually taken up the river bank and onto the train tracks once they saw EMS coming down the tracks since that indicated rail car traffic had been suspended.

Full CPR was continuous for 1 hour and 15 mins, including on Mitchell County EMS utv while traveling up the tracks to wait on the helicopter. A van and extra guides were sent to the Poplar put in and down the tracks to assist with the evacuation. As the guest was being moved from the utv into the helicopter it is reported that a pulse was regained briefly.  

The guest was flown on life flight helicopter to Johnson City Medical Center. Her husband had followed his wife up the tracks with the utv and was taken directly to the medical center by our driver. An officer of the company went to the hospital and remained with the family until later that evening.

Details of Trip: 1:30 Gorge Trip/8.5-mile class 2, 3 &4 whitewater, water level estimated to be 3340 cfs at time of incident, 31 guests, 6 guides with one of them being a safety kayaker

Contact for questions and information regarding this is Matt Moses, President of Mountain River Guides, Inc. and USA Raft LLC at 800-872-7238 or email moses@usaraft.com