FROSTBURG — A Frostburg State University lost his life in a kayaking accident Sunday in Blackwater River in Tucker County, W.Va., becoming the sixth FSU student who has died within the last 20 months. Robert A. Norr, 20, of Darnestown, Montgomery County, was kayaking with five other people and trying to navigate Flat Liner Falls when he became pinned under a rock, officials said. Norr’s body was recovered by searchers Monday and was sent to the West Virginia State Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.
Kayaker's Body Recovered
Tucker County Emergency Crews have recovered the body of a missing kayaker in the Blackwater River in Tucker County. DNR Natural Resources Police identify him as Robert Norr, 20, of Gaithersburg, Maryland. "He and five friends were kayaking on the Blackwater River in Tucker County near Davis," said Captain William Persinger of the WV DNR. "Mr. Norr went over Flatliner Falls. He was pinned under a rock." Friends tell investigators Norr's kayak came to the surface, but he did not. They worked to free him from the rock but were unable to do so. Swiftwater rescue teams were quickly on the scene but also had difficulty freeing him from the entrapment. He was finally recovered about 9:30 Monday morning. His body will be sent to the state Medical Examiner's office for an autopsy.
Account of the Recent Upper Blackwater Fatality
By Kyle Mandler
On Sunday, January 8th Nori Onishi and I drove down to Morgantown to met Bobby Miller, Bob Norr, Sean Devine, and two others at the gate upsetream of Hendricks. Our plan was to paddle the Upper section and meet up with the two others who would hike down at the North Fork confluence; from there we would all paddle the lower together. All of us had run the river before; some dozens of times. The level was 260cfs when we put on, falling about 5cfs/hr. Air and water temperatures were in the low 30s; snow and ice were covering most of the rocks in the river.
We took our time getting down the Upper Blackwater, stopping to chat in the small eddies between drops and enjoying the beauty of the canyon. Everyone ran the many difficult rapids in this stretch with confidence. Nori and I paddled through Angle Left and eddied out on river right, immediately above Flatliner Falls. From this eddy, the bottom of the drop is out of sight, but a rooster tail thrown up by the river left pin rock is occasionally visible. Nori quickly peeled out and continued through the drop, eddying out in small pool river left. He was followed by Dan and Bobby who paddled straight through after running Angle Left.
Bob and Sean ran Angle Left and joined me in the eddy. Sean and I discussed Flatliner with Bob. He said that he remembered the rapid, and we made sure to emphasize that water was falling off of both sides and it is necessary to drive hard for the center to avoid the pin rock on the left, ending with a solid boof stroke to keep the bow up. I told Bob to watch Sean's line, which was clean. I asked Bob if he was ready, and he said, "Yeah." My last words to him were, "Boof off the point in the middle. Don't go left. I'll see you at the bottom." Bob exited the eddy under control and stroking confidently.
As he neared the limit of my vision, I could see he was drifting to the left. Reports from those who were downstream indicate that as he neared the lip he may have realized that he was off-line and attempted to get over by turning his bow towards the river-right. Due to the shape of the rock forming the ledge and the position of the pinning pocket, Bob's boat was turned in parallel to the ledge as he landed, with his stern pointed river left. The force of the water immediately flipped and submerged him, pinning him below the surface. I began my run approximately five seconds after Bob, and by the time I reached the lip his boat was completely submerged. Rescue attempts began immediately. As I landed and eddied out on river left, Nori and Bobby were already out of their boats and wading across a five foot deep pool between the shore and the rocks bordering the drop.
The first throw ropes went out in less than 45 seconds. From those rocks, it was only 5-10 feet to the pin spot, but even then we could only see flashes of Bob's blue Nomad. We attempted to reach Bob with ropes and paddles for approximately five minutes, until it became apparent that a conscious extraction was no longer possible. At this point Dan, who had eddied out further down on river right, was dispatched to summon EMS. Since space was limited on the ice-covered rocks I backed off and began setting anchors in the boulder cave on river left while Bobby and Nori continued throwing ropes where the boat was thought to be trapped. Sean patrolled the flow downstream in his boat in case Bob came free. After a while Bob's PFD, sprayskirt, and eventually his boat all floated free. We were initially hopeful that Bob might still be in the boat, but it was empty.
As we neared the end of the 30 minute window when successful resuscitation might be possible, Bobby volunteered to attempt a risky live bait rescue to try to attach a rope to rope Bob. We saw flashes of his Bob's drytop, indicating that he might be within reach, but the powerful current there threatened to pull Bobby down with him. With two ropes attached, Bobby attempted to wade in from downstream, reaching up and over the submerged pin rock into the pocket. He thought he could feel Bob's hand and attached a rope with a loop. He climbed back up on the rocks and the three of us pulled hard upstream and to the river left, but were unable to make any progress.
By now we were nearing the 45 minute mark, and we knew that a successful rescue was unlikely. Bobby went back in the water to attach a rope for our z-drag. Unfortunately, we only succeeded in pulling Bob's drytop and thermal layers off, and his body remained firmly wedged in place. Not willing to risk another live bait, we spent the next 45 minutes trying to hook the body with weighted ropes and talking with the Tucker Co. Rescue Squad. With hypothermia a real concern, the rescue was called off for the day.
Some concluding thoughts: 1) This was not Bob Norr's first time on the Upper Blackwater. It is my understanding that Bob had made at least two prior runs without incident. While this is far short of the several dozen runs it would take to truly "know" a river of this difficulty and complexity, Bob understood what he was getting himself into when he hiked into the canyon. Until the accident happened he was having a great day. 2) The effort to reclassify Flatliner and update the AW description of the river is helpful, but it would not have prevented the accident. Every one of us paddling that day knew about the pin spot, knew it had killed Carl, and knew how the shape of the left side of the rock directs boats into the pin. Bob died because he misjudged the rapid, despite having run it before, having discussed it in the eddy, and having watched others run it correctly. 2. Even with a fully equipped team of competent rescuers, successful extrication of a boater pinned underwater while still conscious is probably the exception, rather than the norm. With that in mind, mobilization of EMS should be of highest priority if group size permits. If we had managed to get Bob out that day within 30 minutes, having EMS ready and waiting at the shore could have saved him. The possibility that a mistake in a relatively straightforward rapid can be fatal is part of the nature of paddling class V whitewater. This is doubly true in West Virginia, where sieves and pin spots abound. We are sorry that we couldn't rescue Bob and bring him home safely. He was a wonderful, good-natured person who loved the river and was doing well prior to the accident.
January 10, 2012
W.Va. incident makes junior sixth to die in last 20 months
FROSTBURG — A Frostburg State University lost his life in a kayaking accident Sunday in Blackwater River in Tucker County, W.Va., becoming the sixth FSU student who has died within the last 20 months.
Robert A. Norr, 20, of Darnestown, Montgomery County, was kayaking with five other people and trying to navigate Flat Liner Falls when he became pinned under a rock, officials said.
Norr’s body was recovered by searchers Monday and was sent to the West Virginia State Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.
The FSU community was made aware of Norr’s death in an email late Monday afternoon from FSU President Jonathan Gibralter.
“It breaks my heart to have to inform you that one of our students, Robert Norr, died in a kayaking accident over the weekend while in West Virginia.
“Robert was a junior recreation and parks management major with a concentration in therapeutic recreation, and also a member of the FSUâ€ˆswim team.
“Our hearts go out to his family and friends, and they will be in our thoughts and prayers,” read Gibralter’s message.
Counselors from FSU’s Counseling and Psychological Service are available for students who may wish to talk at 301-687-4234.
Late Tuesday morning, FSU spokeswoman Liz Medcalf said funeral arrangements were not yet known but they would be announced as soon as the information becomes available.
Medcalf said the swim team was “together and on campus” when members received word of their fellow swimmer’s death. A counselor was present with the team.
Students are scheduled to return toâ€ˆcampus Jan. 25.
Norr’s death is the latest blow for the FSU community where six students have died in less than two years.