Accident Database

Report ID# 36

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Flush Drowning
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

The Avalanche Creek section of the Crystal River is a high mountain stream, all Class III except for the Narrows. This stretch, dropping 135 feet per mile, has been the site of several drownings. Water temperature was extremely cold.

Dave Weiland, 42, was an extremely experience C-boater from Lexington, KY. He was a smoker and not in good physical condition. He had elected to wear polypropylene anbd a paddle jacket for this run, rather than a wetsuit or drysuit. The four other boaters were also quite experienced.

Here is an exerpt from Barry Grimes' account:

"We scouted the Narrows from a road which ran alkong side the river....It looked like heavy Class IV, but nothing we hadn't run before...we decided to go for it....The rapid was only a quarter mile long, but turned out to be solid Class V.....Tim, who was ahead of me, flipped and rolled in the first hole and popped his sprayskirt. I flipped, rolled, and followed Tim downstream.......into one of the few eddies on river left. Looking upstream, I saw Cynthia and Dave swimming. Looking downstream, I saw Tim get on shore......My only concern was for Cynthia....I saw her heading for some trees....I got out of my boat to get her off the trees.

"IThe bank was nearly vertical, so I climbed to the road. I met tim and asked if he had seen Cynthia. He said that she was all right but that I should get in my boat and go after Carlos and Dave. I went down to thev river and realized that the hardest part of the rapid was yet to come. Having barely survived the first part.....I went back to the road and met Cynthia and Carlos. Tim was driving downstream with the shuttle driver to search for Dave.

"I asked Carlos where Dave was. He said, "I'm really worried about him. He dropped into a big hole and I never saw him again. Cynthia had flipped in the top hole and hit her head hard.......Shee somehow managed to pull her sprayskirt off and swim free. Carlos missec the hole and chased Dave as Cynthia swam for her life. Dave, gasking for air, drifted.....down the right sideĀ side.....which we knew was not the side you wanted to be on. Carlos.....was right with Dave until he saw the big drop coming. Dave dropped in a big hole and never reappeared. Carlos caught an eddy, waiting for tyhe rest of us. When no one appeared, he took out.

"Downstream, the shuttle driver spotted Dave 1.2 miles downstream, floating facedown....Tim.....lept from the steep embankment into the river, swam across the current, pulled Dave to shore, and started CPR. His efforts were not successful. Dave was dead.


Source: Report from Barry Grimes

1) Hypothermia was the primary cause of this drowning. Mr, Weiland was not properly clothed for a swim in the icy snowmelt of the Crystal River. This water is enough to make an otherwise healthy person helpless.

2) It's easy for Easterners to misjudge Western rivers when scouting from shore. The scale of the land tends to throw you off.

3) A safety boat at the bottom of the rapid might have speeded up rescue, but someone has to go first and no one in the group was ready for a rapid of this intensity. Given Mr. Weiland's unresponsive condition a throw rope would have done no good.

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