Accident Database

Report ID# 3674

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Accident Description

 Man drowns on whitewater rafting trip

28-year-old dies while swimming during break from rafting


AUGUST 20, 2012

What was supposed to be a fun trip down the Ottawa River with his co-workers ended up being a traumatic experience that Bill Bray will not be able to quickly forget. Bray was on a whitewater rafting trip with four of his co-workers on the Ottawa River with Wilderness Tours on Saturday. After the group of 28 rafters and four guides successfully negotiated the first two sets of rapids, Bray said the group took a break at a quiet stop-and-swim point off the river. It was here, in the calm waters, that 28-year-old Thang Duc Ngo of North York drowned.

Bray became acquainted with Ngo during the first half of the day. After just a few hours of knowing him, Bray described Ngo as a "great guy." The last Bray saw of Ngo he was swimming with a group of people. At some point, someone in the water began shouting that he was missing. When the guides were notified that one of the participants was missing, Bray said the first thing they did was a roll call, calling out the names of the 28 rafters supposed to be with the tour. He said it took "two or three minutes" of calling out names before the guides got to Ngo's name. "We all knew who it was (who was missing) anyways," said Bray. After the roll call, Bray said the guides dove into the water and quickly recovered Ngo's body. They brought the body up to shore and began per-forming CPR, but to no avail.

Bray estimates that from the time the rafters realized Ngo went missing, he was likely underwater for several minutes. "No one knew what happened," said Bray. "One minute he was swimming around with everyone else, the next minute he went under." According to Bray, the raft was not equipped with a working radio. The group had to wait on shore for 40 minutes before a tour boat from a separate rafting company passed by with a radio. Only then were the guides able to call for help.

Bray says he was shocked that Wilderness Tours, an organization that has been running since 1975, did not appear to have a proper plan for this scenario. "For about 10, 15 minutes, there was sheer panic where they didn't know what to do," Bray said. "They didn't know who to call, they didn't know how to get him out. They debated floating him down the river, even running up the hill to find the road and get help." Bray said the group remained at the scene of the drowning for approximately two hours before the remaining rafters were led away from the river and put on a bus back to the main grounds at Wilderness Tours.

But for Bray, the worst part was yet to come. When the rafters returned to the main grounds, Bray said the staff started playing music, dancing and singing, pretending that nothing had happened. They even asked the participants if they wanted to purchase a video of their tour. "They handled it atrociously," said Bray. "It was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen." Bray spoke with the owner of Wilderness Tours, Joe Kowalski, shortly after the incident, and said he was disappointed in the way he brushed off what had just happened. In an email to Bray, Kowalski explained he was "unclear about the events" and "unable to discuss it with you properly at the time." Kowalski was unable to be reached for comment.

Ontario Provincial Police Renfrew detachment said in a news re-lease it is investigating the drowning under the direction of the Coroner's Office. According to the statement, the death is not considered suspicious and no foul play is suspected.

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