Accident Database

Report ID# 3759

  • Health Problem
  • Heart Attack / Heart Failure
  • Other

Accident Description

Via Email:

Whitewater K1 Victim swam at "Robins Nest" rapid on the Barnum, WV to Bloomington, MD stretch of the North Branch Potomac.The victim's body was found downstream from the rapid and CPR was tried with no success. Information from third party sources suggests that the victim had an existing heart condition. There was no strainer, the weather was fine and nothing unusual at the rapid for a typical 1,000 cfs release. The victim's body was floated down to the Bloomington, MD takeout on a ducky where the Bloomington, MD rescue squad was waiting. The Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) interviewed the paddlers that brought the body down.


A man came out of his boat at robin's nest.  A member of our group, Mason Dixon Paddlers, recovered his body near the takeout. Our thanks go to Rae who helped transport the man's body to meet the ambulance, and provided a report to EMTs -- all with clearheaded calmness. It was truly a blessing that Rae and her husband were paddling a tandem ducky. They were the right people in the right place at the right time to enable a quick recovery. Thanks also to Richard Walters, Jim, and Patrick who stayed with the man's son to do a thorough search of the shoreline. Our thoughts and prayers are with the son and his family.

I copied this next section from the Monocacy Canoe Club Message Board

Re: fatality on North Branch

Submitted by Hendrik on 26/Aug/2013

It turns out that Saturday's victim was a close friend of one of senior geologists at the USGS--they knew each otherfrom coaching*. The victim's name was Louis Petersen, age 65, and he was paddling with his youngest son Scott, who was a year out of college. My colleague confirmed that the "Lou" was overweight, but claims that the son was not and indeed was in very good shape (and getting ready to start serving in the Coast Guard).

Louis Patterson was heavily involved in coaching Youth Lacrosse and was about to take over running the entire NVA Youth Lacrosse league.

  • On 8/24/13 at 2:00 in the afternoon my friend Heather Sunderland and I were kayaking the North Branch dam release (class 2-3 whitewater) and had just paddled past the rapid Bear Falls (a.k.a. Robins Nest). In an eddie on river right we noticed a kid (teenager?) in his kayak. Another empty kayak was beside him. He was frantic and asking if we had seen his dad. He said his dad was wearing a red helmet and pfd. We told him had not seen him or anyone else on our run down. (We think that the lack of people on the river was because most people paddling it that day were in between their 1st and 2nd runs). The kid said his dad flipped and swam out of his boat at Robins nest. He then said it appeared his dad was alright and had gottin into an eddie so he went to retrieve his dads kayak. He said that he got his dads boat to shore and then noticed his father wasn't were he last saw him anymore.
  • Thinking back on past years of North branch trips, there's alot of beginners who run this section and it's not unusual to see swimmers at Robins nest. Sometimes groups would get split up in the commotion but were always reunited in a short time so I tried to reassure the boy that his dad was probably ok and had mabye walked upstream or downstream along the bank. I told him to get out of his boat and walk up into the woods a little and start yelling for his dad, and that if we saw him downstream we would tell the father that his son was upstream looking for him. So we paddled on, went through a few more rapids, (we were about 1.5 mi downstream of where we encountered the son last) and then we saw something the color red, bobbing/floating in the middle of the river about 1 mile downstream of us. I paddled as fast as I could to get down there and when I got to about 10ft away I realized what it was. It was a red pfd and I through the side of it I could see a head. His helmet was still on, eyes were closed, mouth was wide open and his color was lite blue/gray.

    It was a very gruesome sight! The pfd had rose up and around his head and wasn't around his body anymore. The only parts of him above the water was his head and pfd. I yelled up to Heather to come down and help me get him to shore. I held on to his arm and to Heathers boat while she paddled us to the river left shore. We were around 3/4mi upstream of the takeout by this point. I pulled him up onto the bank, removed the pfd from his head and started cpr while Heather was trying to get service signal on the cell phone. (Signal is very spotty through that section of the Potomac.) The man didn't appear to be properly dressed for a cold water swim. He appeared to be in his 50's and was overweight. His kayak skirt was down around his legs. He was totally unresponsive. CPR didn't seem to be helping at all and after around 10 mins of it I stopped to check for pulse and any sign of life. No pulse detected on his neck or wrist. His body was VERY cold and stiffining. The color of his face was grayish/ashen and I then concluded the man was dead...and had most likely been dead for a bit before we found him. I laid his pfd across his face and said a prayer for him and his family.

    We had gotten through to 911 emergency, they told us that the area was inaccessable and to get the body down to the takeout where rescuers would be waiting. We were in kayaks so we couldn't get him down there ourselves so we waited, hoping that a raft would come down soon and help us get him to takeout. We waited 20 mins and finally another kayaker came down. He said his name was "Zane". He told us there was a double duckie (2 person inflatable kayak) coming down a few mins behind him. We waited another 10 mins and they arrived, we flagged them over to us. I was glad they were able help us. I knew one of the paddlers in the duckie, her name is Rachel Beth Walters. We were able to put the mans body across the middle of the duckie, between the two paddlers in it.

    The firemen/rescue crews met us just a little upstream of the normal takeout on river left. They took the man off in an ambulance heading to the hospital in Keyser and told us to meet Maryland Natural Resources Police at the normal takeout to give statements. When the son did finally paddle down to the takeout, he was told of what happened to his dad and he took it very hard as I would have too if it had been my father. A sad day on a beautiful and usually uneventful section of the North branch Potomac river.

    Rhett Colwell

    This is Scott Petersen the son of the man who passed away on the river I wanted to share the facts that I have so that everyone may know what occurred that day. My father came out of his boat after the second drop at Robins Nest, he was a very experienced boater but could not necessarily roll his boat anymore. The coroner believes my father had a heart attack which in-turn lead to drowning. He WAS properly outfitted. Richard, Jim, Patrick and Rae if you could please email me I would love to get together with yall to express my gratitude and appreciation for helping me on that day.


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