Accident Database

Report ID# 3605

  • Equipment Trap
  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

From "Playak Weekly Digest".  Link to the story:

At 5:45 pm on April 28 Heather Bonser-Bishop, 39, was standup paddling on the Chetco River in southern Oregon when her surf leash caught on a submerged snag causing her to fall and be held under water. She drowned shortly thereafter.

Bonser-Bishop was enjoying some of the first spring sunshine with her family after a long, damp Oregon winter. She and her 10-year-old daughter had fallen behind the other members of their group.

There were several snags—branches from one or more fallen trees—in the area that Bonser-Bishop was caught in and, according to Curry County Lieutenant John Ward, you could see the ripples caused by the snags just below the waterline. The greenish-brown water was six to eight feet deep at the scene of the accident, roughly two miles up the Chetco from the Pacific Ocean. The river was 60 to 70 feet wide and moving quickly but was not quite a riffle. It was a deceptively calm stretch of water.

Bonser-Bishop fell from her board when her traditional surf leash attached to her ankle and dragging behind her caught on one of the snags. As she was pulled downstream her board and leash wedged against the log, holding her elongated in the current. Her daughter yelled for help and called to her mother. A man staying at the AtRivers Edge RV Resort across the river heard her cries and called emergency services. The daughter paddled over to him from the opposite shore when he came to the riverbank. It was too late.

Unfortunately, Bonser-Bishop was only wearing a wetsuit. She was not wearing a life jacket and didn’t have a knife, Ward said. She also wasn’t using a quick-release leash, which are specifically designed to release from a waste belt or the quick release strap on a rescue pfd.

River leashes are often coiled so the amount of cord dragging in the water is minimized. When using any kind of leash, coiled or not, it’s imperative to attach the ankle fitting to the quick release belt on the life jacket so you can reach the release at your waste. Current, even minimal, is strong, often making it impossible to reach a leash attached to the ankle in the river (an equivalent in ocean paddling is when a board’s leash becomes caught in a rock, with a surfer struggling at one end and the board bobbing to the surface on the other, often referred to as “tombstoning”). It’s not certain whether any of these items would have saved Bonser-Bishop’s life.

Bonser-Bishop was a non-profit consultant and held an MBA from Humboldt State University. For seven years she served as the executive director of the North Coast Clinics Network, the regional group that represents local community health centers. She was living in Gold Beach, Oregon but planned on returning to Trinidad, California with her husband and two daughters later this year. –Will Taylor

The victim is the daughter of a retired Redwood NP employee.

The incident took place near the mouth near the town of Brookings (

The flow was around 4300 cfs (,00060).

The local rivers (Smith, Chetco, Rogue) are a bit higher than average due to about 2 inches of rain last Wednesday; the Chetco is a flashy river. The day was sunny and warm inland but I don't know what the conditions wereat the location of the incident. The reported high temp at Brookings was in the lower 60s. The upper wilderness run on the Chetco River was featured on the cover of the latest AW magazine.

Aida Parkinson

Supervisory Environmental Specialist

Redwood National Park

Gold Beach woman drowns in Chetco River April 30, 2012 02:22 am A Gold Beach woman drowned in a paddle boarding accident on the Chetco River Saturday evening, according to the Curry County Sheriff’s Office. Heather Bonser Bishop, 39, drowned when her paddle board and line became tangled in a submerged tree on the north bank of the river, across from the AtRivers Edge RV Resort, according to Sheriff John Bishop, who is no relation to the victim. Heather Bishop was on an outing with her family, according to the sheriff’s release. She and her 10-year-old daughter were behind the other members of the group.

Officials were alerted to the accident about 5:30 p.m. Saturday when Mike Sanders, visiting from Texas, called 911 to report he could hear a child crying for help. He was on the south bank of the river near AtRivers Edge RV Park. The sheriff’s office said the child crossed the river to Sanders while emergency personnel from the sheriff’s office, Cal-Ore Life Flight, Brookings Fire Department and Brookings Police responded to the scene. Deputy John Ensley reported that officials had to keep Bishop’s family members from trying to go back into the water after the victim’s body. With the use of the sheriff’s marine boat, the body was recovered about 7:30 p.m., the sheriff’s office said. The accident is under investigation by the Curry County Sheriff’s Office Marine Division.

Heather Bonser-Bishop, a 39-year-oldnonprofit consultant who split her time between Trinidad and the Oregon Coast, drowned over the weekend after her stand-up paddleboard became entangled with a tree, theOregonian reports. She was on the river with her 10-year-old daughter at the time. Bonser-Bishop held an MBA from Humboldt State University and for seven years served as the executive director of the North Coast Clinics Network, the regional group that represents local community health centers. 

NA 39-year-old Gold Beach woman drowned Saturday after her paddle board became entangled with a submerged tree on the Chetco River. Curry County Sheriff John Bishop said a man reported hearing a child cry for help on the river bank next to at Rivers Edge RV Resort near Harbor before 6 p.m. When deputies arrived, they could see a woman’s body under the water, caught on a tree.

The body of Heather Bonser Bishop was recovered at about 7:30 p.m. by search and rescue personnel. Investigators discovered that Bishop, no relation to the sheriff, was paddle boarding in the Chetco River with her family on Saturday. Bishop and her 10-year-old daughter were trailing other family members when Bishop’s board and line became entangled in the tree, which pulled her under. Her daughter screamed for help. The body was turned over to Redwood Mortuary and the Curry County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

Newspaper article: 2nd Newspaper article:

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!