Accident Database

Report ID# 3609

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

From: Wendy Wyels

Sent: Sun, May 6, 2012 9:00 pm

Subject: Accident on the North Fork American

You may have heard that there was an extremely sad, unfortunate incident on the North Fork American River yesterday. A commercial passenger died after swimming probably the bottom portion of Slaugher's Sluice and then Chamberlain Falls. My understanding was that he was in the river for no more than two minutes but that he was face down and unresponsive when pulled from the water below Chamberlain.

There was a paramedic and two nurses who were on the commercial trip and they started CPR. The victim was wearing a wetsuit and I did not see any obvious signs of trauma. Our RCWC trip came upon the scene about ten minutes after CPR had been started. Although I was told that help had been called by people upstream and across the river, I was concerned that they might not have relayed exactly how serious the situation was, so I also called 911. There was poor reception but I was able to provide information to the CalFire dispatcher, and then was told that paramedics were hiking down and that a chopper was on its way.

The chopper did a fly over and with a loudspeaker, told the group to move the victim from the tiny eddy on river right to a larger flat area on river left. They did this in a paddle boat while continuing CPR. There were a number of other commercial passengers on river left, and CPR was being continued after the victim had been moved to land. Therefore, our group felt that we had done all that we could and continued downriver. However, within a few bends of the river, the commercial paddle boat overtook us. The three rescuers were doing CPR on the victim while other people paddled. The guide told me that the chopper had told them to go downriver to a beach. I told the guide that I'd stay with him for safety and then with his input decided to call 911 because we couldn't think of any beach in that section of the river.

Unfortunately, there was no cell reception at this point. Before continuing downriver, we transferred the victim to my oar boat because the wooden deck provided a better platform for CPR compressions. We all continued downriver through multiple Class II rapids and one Class III rapid. When we came to Bogus Thunder we stopped to scout and figure out what to do. Our plan was to line the boat down while the rescuers continued CPR on the victim, with a guide and paddler in the boat to help in conjunction with the lining. However, the chopper came back as we were in the middle of the procedure and we pulled the boat into the last tiny eddy before the rapid. The chopper hovered overhead and lowered a paramedic. After assessing the victim, he determined that there was nothing else that could be done. The chopper left to get gas, and about an hour later it came back and the victim was lifted into the chopper.

I want to commend the professionalism of the three people who continued CPR for at least 90 minutes under very trying conditions. One of these people was the victim's wife, and my heart and prayers go out to her and her family. Wendy

May 7, 2012

American River drowning victim identified

The name of a man who drowned Sunday on the North Fork of the American River has been released by the Placer County Sheriff's office. He was identified as Stan Decker, 59, of Rohnert Park, Sonoma County. Decker was reportedly attempting to help two other rafters who were having difficulty maneuvering the rapids near a run called Chamberlain Falls when they hit another set of rapids that apparently caused him to fall into the water. The two surviving rafters found him later, brought him to shore, started CPR and called authorities. Categories: Placer County


Published: Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 2:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 7, 2012 at 7:39 a.m.

A 59-year-old Rohnert Park man died Saturday after he was swept away in the current of the raging American River in Placer County while white-water rafting.

Stan Decker's family said the father of two reportedly spent the last moments of his life helping fellow rafters get back into the boat when he fell back into the water and the current overcame him.

A outdoorsman and athlete with a salesman's charm, Decker taught water aerobics at the YMCA and 24 Hour Fitness gyms in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa. He worked in sales at the Santa Rosa information technology firm KLH Consulting on Bicentennial Way.

Decker and his girlfriend, Reka Molnar of Santa Rosa, were on a guided rafting trip down the North Fork of the American River near the churning Chamberlain Fall where he and several others were thrown from the boat.

"He got onto the raft and then he helped three more people get onto the raft," said his daughter, Taylor Decker, 20, of Rohnert Park. "The third person pulled him into the water as they were going down another rapid."

Decker was swept downstream much faster than the boat could travel, she said, recounting what she learned from Molnar.

Chamberlain Fall is a Class IV rapids, near the top of the six-class international scale of river difficulty. Rapids in that class are described as being long with irregular waves, dangerous rocks and boiling eddies.

Cal Fire paramedics and a CHP helicopter were dispatched at 12:26 p.m. to the remote area near Colfax, about 25 miles northeast of Auburn, Cal Fire dispatcher Chelsea Fox said.


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