Accident Database

Report ID# 3615

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

June 19, 2012 One man, 68-year-old Edwin Rutkowski of Washington, died on the McKenzie River while on a fishing trip with his son, Peter Rutkowski, 38, of Eugene. Sgt. John Miller of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office said the pair was seen shortly after 3 p.m. going through Marten Rapids near Ben and Kay Dorris State Park when their canoe capsized, spilling them both into the water. The younger Rutkowski (an experienced kayaker) was able to grab onto a rock until he could be rescued by a guide in a raft, but his father disappeared underwater. The elder Rutkowski’s body was spotted about an hour later by a Lifeflight medical helicopter that was helping in the search. McKenzie Fire and Rescue also assisted. The pair did not have any flotation devices with them in the boat, Miller said.



Pete is an experienced kayaker.  They had no lifejackets.  They had them, but forgot them and put on anyway. It was Dad's birthday as well as Father's Day, and the day before Pete's graduation from the University of Oregon's Landscape Architecture masters program. Tragic timing.

They came upon a rapid, and Pete told his Dad they'd have to portage.  While making his way across to shore, he miscalculated and hit a rock.  Dad leaned the wrong way.  Pete said they'd have to swim, gave directions, but Dad didn't do well. Pete kept dragging him back to surface, and swimming with him, as they got submerged in wave trains.  Finally, he knew his Dad was gone.  Still tried to swim him to shore to do CPR, etc.  Finally, he couldn't hold him and Dad slipped out of his hands.  Took more than an hour to find/recover the body.


Washington man drowns in McKenzie River rapids

EUGENE, Ore. - As the father and son paddle into view at the top of Martins Rapids in a video shot on Father's Day, an onlooker can be heard asking, "Do they have a life vest on?"

"No, they don't," someone watching the canoers from the shore answers.

"Go this way!" someone yells, followed by a loud whistle. It's unclear whether the men in the canoe hear the warnings.

As they paddle out of view of the camera behind a rock in the river, the onlookers debate how the two could successfully navigate the rapids.

The canoe comes back into view - and capsizes a moment later after running into a rock in the river.

The video shows the men near their boat, then floating downstream through the rapids.

One of the men disappears beneath the rapids just before the camera stops rolling.

Peter Rutkowski, 38, of Eugene managed to cling to a rock until he was picked up by a guide in a raft after the canoe overturned at the top of Martins Rapids around 3 p.m.

Rutkowski's father Edwin, 68, of Washington state was pronounced dead at the scene. His body was spotted by a helicopter and recovered. The exact cause of death won't be known pending the outcome of an autopsy but is presumed to be drowning, the sheriff's office said. Neither man was wearing a life jacket, the sheriff's office said.

The elder Rutkowski was in town to attend his son's graduation from the University of Oregon, KVAL News learned Monday.

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