Accident Database

Report ID# 3693

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Foot Entrapment
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

  • March 11th, 2013, around noon, on the Little River at the Sinks rapid. Water level was 2.6 feet at the gaging station in Townsend.

    The river is amenable to canoeing at levels between 2.2 to 3.0 according to local paddlers. Temperature was 51 Fahrenheit, overcast.

    Water temperature was probably in the thirties as snow had fallen in the mountains in the previous days.


    Ain’t Louie Fest in an informal unofficial gathering of predominantly open boaters from Canada and the United States that has been running for seven years. Attending are experienced boaters, many revered in the canoeing community as top-tier paddlers, coming to enjoy the Tennessee Rivers during Canadian spring break, most of which are more than well versed in whitewater rescue, some of them totaling decades of whitewater experience.


    A large group (3 dozen boaters?) intended to run the Sinks to Elbow section of the river that day. As the first boaters came to the Sinks rapid, safety on the ledge just upstream from the falls (known as the last ledge of the Meanies) was set on both sides of the river by the forerunners as there is a strong but short recirculation at its base.

    Mr. Steve Senior, the victim, flipped in the ledge just upstream, and could not roll his canoe or reach for the shore swimming. He prepared to swim the second ledge by adopting a supine, head upstream position, he was seen working to keep his feet on the surface, as the current was pushing him towards the second, recirculating ledge. He ended going over the drop feet first. He did not reappear immediately in the washout as expected. The throw bagger on river right waited for Steve to resurface and when it was evident that he was trapped under water he threw his line. No attempt to grap the line was made so it was pulled in and recoiled. The throw bagger on river left threw their line with the same result. Only after this first attepts, perhaps at the 20 second mark did the victems reached above the surface of the water. The coiled line from river right was thrown again but the hand sank below the surface.

    It was then decided to perform a strong swimmer rescue. Staged from a rock outcrop about 12 feet downstream of the hole and to the river right a tethered swimmer. It became evident that the situation was getting worse as the paddlers insuring safety saw the victim’s hand briefly reaching out of the water about six feet downriver from the ledge. As he was most probably trying to right himself, his back against the current, from a leg entrapment in an underwater undercut at the base of the ledge. Ropes were thrown; at least six attempts were seen made from upstream, to no avail. It is assumed he was kept underwater by the strength of the current from that moment until the final recovery, head downstream, facing down. Visibility through water was nil due to aeration.

    A rescuer from the shore spotted the place the victim was last seen as other swiftly set a rope across the river to attempt a live bait rescue. In the meantime, two strong boaters jumped from immediately upstream in an initial attempt to reach Mr. Senior. One of them reported feeling the undercut underwater and no more attempts of swimming from upstream were made, for obvious safety reasons. Multiple live bait attempts from downstream were made by strong, experienced boaters, tethered initials from river right side of the river and from downstream. When it became clear that the tethers from the river right and downstream did not allow the people manning the rope to keep the rescue swimming stabilized over the suspected location of the victim, a third rope was requested from river left.

    After the rescue swimmer was tether from both sides it was possible to stabilize the swimmer. The strength of the current, the depth at which the victim was trapped and the poor visibility in aerated water precluded initial success. The victim was initially grabbed by his helmet, but it gave way. Another attempt ripped him of his PFD, torn outside in, which gives an idea of the amount of force that was necessitated to fight the current.

    Finally, after 37 minutes, the victim was recovered and CPR was immediately started on the shore by rescuers, one of them an anesthesiologist. The victim was not breathing and pulseless, but initial efforts were successful in that he rapidly regained coloration. He was transferred on a stretcher to the EMT waiting on the road by the bridge on river right, and they took over resuscitation from then on. The victim was transferred to hospital, where he was found to have a pulse and spontaneously breathing. He died later that evening in the ICU, probably from cardiac causes. It is to be noted that even if the victim spent more than half an hour underwater, cold water immersion allows for an extended amount of time for rescue and efforts in retrieving and reanimating such a victim must not be stopped until having been at least an hour underwater or body temperature rewarmed to 95 Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) at the hospital. Even after such a prolonged immersion, Mr. Senior spontaneously breathing on arrival testifies of prolonged neurologic survival under such circumstances.

  • Date: March 11th Monday

  • Time: approx.: 11:00 am

  • Location: Little River Ledges above Sinks

  • - Started in eddy pool above. Paddler came in eddy. Was advised to seek information about what line to take.
    - A number of paddlers ran the series of ledges without incident. The route involved descending the first ledge and briefly eddying out river left, and then proceeding across the current over the second ledge and eddying out river right.
    - SS began his run and flipped after the first ledge. He was seen swimming from his boat and assuming a swimmers position on his back with his feet downstream. He descended the second ledge, was lost from sight and did not resurface.
    - Safety on river right was heard shouting, “He’s in the hole”. SS did not resurface. The paddler doing safety looked downstream to check if SS was resurfacing and confirmed that he was not. Waited an additional moment and then threw a throw rope in the hole in hopes that SS could grab it or that the rope catches on to him. Unsuccessful. The rope was recoiled. In the meantime, safety on river left adjacent to boil line throws his rope, still no sight of SS. He pulls in his rope and the first safety throws again. According to the right safety, SS’s arm reached out (perhaps for the rope). The hand is seen only briefly and only this one time.
    - - StrongSwimmer (live bait) rescue is begun. First strong swimmer attempts ~ 3 times. The second strong swimmer takes over as second swimmer and attempts ~ 3 times and succeeds only in removing the PFD trying to grab SS and then the helmet. A third strong swimmer relieves the second and attempts also ~3 times and was able to touch SS each time but unable to get a grip. Several attempts continued.
    - Approx. 10 minutes time from submersion, rescuers switched to using a Tyrolian line (set up during strong swimmer attempts) with ~ 5 people anchoring on river right and 5 on river left. 2 attempts by rescuers determined the need for a 3rd line to stabilize the rescuer and to avoid an awkward undercut near shore and/or to provide an alternate angle of pull to recover SS if necessary. It was controlled from a downstream position on river left.
    - - Numerous attempts were made by rescuers. On some attempts, SS’s hand could be gripped but he was held too tightly. It was determined that a rope with lasso was required to attach to SS wrist. On the second attempt the rescuer was able to get the lasso on the hand.
    - - Both rescuer and SS were pulled to river right side. A 45 degree slanted rock in the way required a number of people to pull both of them to the river right shore.
    - Approx. 20 min had elapsed since submersion.
    - CPR was started immediately and, airway - ventilation maintained. Soon a Park ranger showed up with gurney and an ADF . A paddler began cutting the neck gasket and drysuit in order to expose the chest while another did the same but from the waistline up. Drysuit was very difficult to cut but managed to cut through eventually.
    - CPR was stopped and SS was transferred to the gurney. CPR recommenced.
    - ADF Patches were applied. Unit was unpacked but for some reason the ADF did not work.
    - CPR resumed and SS was transported quickly to the road from the shore with the aide of ~16 people in brigade fashion. Gurney was then put on the ambulance stretcher.
    - A paddler who was assisting identified himself to the EMT as an anesthesiologist and was given permission to continue CPR while the EMT bag ventilated SS.


At around noon on March 11th Steve Senior, a 65 year-old open canoeist, was running Tennessee's Little River with a large group. He flipped in the first drop of "the Meanies" just above The Sinks and washed downstream over a 6' ledge. He was swimming on his back, feet first, lined up with the current when he washed into the backwash and did not reappear. The water "planted" him vertically in rocks below the drop, catching his foot.

Several paddlers who had set safety below this drop threw their ropes into the hole. When Mr. Senior did not grab hold, they tried to swim into the hole from downstream. When this was not successful, several paddlers clipped lines into their PFD and attempted a "live bait" rescue. Some of the rescue swimmers had rescue PFD's; others did not. Finally a swimmer was tethered to lines coming from downstream and one side; wheen this dis not place the rescuer in position a third rope from the opposite shore was added. Initial contact pulled off Mr. Senior's helmet and PFD. Finally the rescuer was able to grab Mr. Senior's arm and tie a rope to his wrist. It took a good bit of pulling to free the pinned man. Partway through the extraction the rope began to slip off the victim's wrist and a second line had to be thrown out and attached.

Mr. Senior had been under water for 27 minutes. Several group members had medical training and began CPR. Park service personnel brought a Stokes Litter and secured him in place. Everyone worked together to get the litter to the road so he could be taken to a nearby hospital. Although Mr. Senior began breathing on his own, he did not survive. He passed away the following morning.

NPS Morning Report

Great Smoky Mountains NP canoe fatality
The following article was sent from InsideNPS. The article can be found at

Visitor Dies Following Canoeing Accident

A 65-year-old Ontario man was seriously injured in a canoe accident above The Sinks early on Monday afternoon. He was visiting the area to attend the Ain’t Louie Fest, which includes a series of river trips loosely organized by a group of whitewater enthusiasts, and became trapped after his canoe capsized and he was swept downstream. Many of the participants are well trained in swiftwater rescue and immediately began rescue operations. They’d pulled him from the water and begun CPR by the time emergency responders arrived on scene. Although he’d been underwater for about a half hour and was unresponsive when rescued, he resumed breathing and his heart again began to beat, but later expired at a local hospital. The Townsend Volunteer Fire Department, Townsend Police Department, Blount County Sheriff’s Department, and Blount County Fire also responded to the incident.  Little River Road was closed for over an hour to allow for emergency traffic.

Contact Information
Name: Dana Soehn, Public Affairs Officer


Canoeist dies after Smokies canoe accident

Crews rescued a canoeist trapped underwater at the "Sinks" in the Smokies on Monday afternoon. Steve Senior from Bridgeport, Ontario was seriously hurt in the accident. The park says he was attending the "Ain't Louie Fest" He was pinned underwater until other members of his group could pull him out and begin CPR.

Someone called 911 to report the incident shortly before 12:45 p.m. Bryan Isbell of Cookeville, Tennessee was one of several dozen canoeists running the same course as Senior, though the two did not know each other. Isbell watched his fellow boater take the fall. "This happened in basically the first rapid after I got on river," he said. "This guy's coming down and we see him swim out of his boat, and he goes over a drop, and goes under water, and then, we didn't see him again."

Isbell says most people on the trip have completed significant training in water rescue, and the group jumped into action immediately. "The people who were running the rescues were consummate professionals, knew exactly what they were doing. We had four or five people doing what's called 'live bait' where, basically, we tied ropes to their PFDs [Personal Flotation Devices] and they jumped into the rapid above where the guy was and tried to drag him out."

Rescuers performed CPR and transported the victim to Blount Memorial Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition Monday night. "Tonight we raise a glass to the guy and hope he pulls through," Isbell said, as he prepared to join other boaters at a pre-planned dinner at Calhouns.

Reflecting on the day, Isbell says the actions of the other canoeists in the water with Senior Monday were not surprising. He says the people risking their own lives for another deserve all the credit. "It's a real close knit kind of community," he said of the boaters. "Everybody has to trust each other, everybody has to be ready to jump in there and help the guy who's in trouble even if you don't know who they are. You do whatever it takes." Officials had to close Little River Road between Metcalf Bottoms and the Townsend Whye for emergency traffic, but opened later Monday afternoon.

Update Tuesday 6:07 am Blount Memorial Hospital has confirmed to 10News that Steve Senior has died

Man dies after being trapped underwater during Smokies canoe trip

Posted: Mar 11, 2013 5:02 PM

GATLINBURG (WATE) - A Canadian man canoeing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park died overnight after being submerged underwater for several minutes Monday. Steve Senior, 65, of Bridgenorth, Ontario, became pinned underwater while canoeing with a group of whitewater enthusiasts in a section of the Little River known as the Sinks.

Senior became trapped after his canoe capsized and he was swept downstream. National Park officials say Senior was submerged for approximately 30 minutes and was unresponsive when he was rescued by members of his group. Emergency responders arriving on the scene began CPR and were able to revive him sufficiently to get spontaneous heartbeats and respiration. Senior later died at Blount Memorial Hospital, a hospital spokesperson said.



Man injured in canoe accident in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (03-11-13)

Steve Senior, 65, of Bridgenorth, Ontario, was seriously injured Mon. (03-11) in a canoe accident above The Sinks area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At 12:41 p.m., the park Communications Center received an emergency call reporting that an individual was pinned under water. Senior was visiting the area to attend the “Ain’t Louie Fest,” which includes a series of river trips loosely organized by a group of whitewater enthusiasts. Senior became trapped after his canoe capsized and he was swept downstream.

Many members of the group are well trained in swift water rescue and immediately began rescue operations. Just as emergency responders arrived on scene, the group pulled the injured party out of the water and began CPR. National Park Service rangers, along with emergency personnel from Blount Co. and Townsend, TN, transported him by litter from the riverbank to a Rural Metro ambulance. Senior had reportedly been under water for approximately 30 min. and was unresponsive when he was rescued, but later had spontaneous heartbeats and respiration. He was transported by ambulance to Blount Memorial Hosp.where he is in critical condition. The Townsend VFD., Townsend PD., Blount Co. Sheriff’s Dept., and Blount Co. Fire also responded to the incident.  Little River Road was closed for over an hour to allow for emergency traffic.

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