Accident Database

Report ID# 3703

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • Other

Accident Description

NPS Morning Report - Buffalo National River Kayaker Drowns In Boating Accident

On the afternoon of May 6th, a 79-year-old woman from Vermont drowned after striking her head on a tree that was hanging over the river and subsequently caused her kayak to overturn. A friend who was kayaking with her witnessed the accident. She said that the woman was underwater for several minutes before she could get to her and that she was unable to get the kayak upright or get her friend's head above water. Boaters floating down the river came upon the scene and assisted with turning the kayak upright and getting the woman, now deceased, out of the kayak. It is thought that she was underwater for 40 to 45 minutes prior to help arriving.

Maintenance employee Jesse Morris was first on scene after hiking in from a location above the accident site and was instrumental in assisting responding rangers. Newton County Search and Rescue also arrived on scene and assisted in the body recovery. The river was running at 588 cubic feet per second at the time of the accident. The longtime friend said that her companion was an experienced kayaker and that they had been taking river trips together since 1988. [Karen Bradford, Chief Ranger]


Vermont woman dies in Arkansas kayaking accident

May 8, 2013 From The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A 79-year-old Vermont woman died Monday after a kayaking accident on the Buffalo National River in northwest Arkansas. Sally Sairs’ kayak overturned after her head struck a tree, said Caven Clark, a spokesman for the Buffalo National River park. “She was trapped under water for 40 or 45 min,” said Clark. “We don’t know for sure if she drown ... but she was under water for a long period of time.” Boaters floating down the river came upon the scene and tried to help a friend of Sairs turn the kayak upright. “It’s not that the kayak was heavy,” Clark said. “It’s the pressure of the water. Once that kayak is under water, you have all the pressure of the river up against it.” Clark said the river was running at 588 cubic feet per second at the time of the accident, which was about 2:30 p.m. Clark said there won’t be an autopsy since the death was the result of an accident. Clark said Sairs was an experienced kayaker. “Visitors need to be prepared,” said Clark. “We’re not saying she wasn’t. ... We’re not going to groom this river so people have a boat ride at Disneyland. Otherwise it’s not going to be what it is. It’s not going to have the values it was admired for in the first place.” National Park Service rangers, along with Newton County Search and Rescue, recovered the body.

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