In early March, 1986 a group of Atlanta paddlers arrived at the Gauley. Finding the level very high, they chose to run the lower stretch. All members of the party were in low-volume squirt boats. The victim, Allan Connelly, was the weakest member of the group. The weather was cold: 40 degrees and drizzling.
The group ran the river without incident; Mr. Connelly was tired and cold but performing well. The group entered an eddyline, peeled out, and headed dowwnstream. No one saw what happened, but Mr. Connelly disappeared without a trace. After a lengthy search they notified authorities. The next day, after the flow at Summersville Dam was cut back, professional guides found him while searching the river. He was still in his boat, with the sprayskirt attached.
Jim Snyder, pioneerring squirtist and boat designer, examined both the boat and the site. He writes:
"The scratches on the boat revealed a great deal. There was only one fresh set of scratches and I'm confident that they were caused by the accident. One set starts at the feet and runs to the hip area along the left side. and shortly after the seat runs diagonally across the boat. There were scratches rougly two feet long under the right hip. These scratches were relatively shallow except for one area under the hip. The boat was not cracked anywhere and did not collapse. There were no scratches whatsoever on the deck.
Apparently the boat was wedged, with a rock at each hip. I believe he entered a drain area between two rocks at least three feet below the surface. The first point of contact was under his feet; the boat slid forward two feet and lodged, blocking the drain. His boat was nearly level, with the bow pointing downstream. At this point I believe he dropped his paddle, put his hands on the rocks, and wiggled the boat forward and backward at least 8 times. As the scratches were not very deep, and the boat was not cracked, I believe that there was a large area of contact between the boat and the rocks. This created too much friction for the boat to slide free. After several fierce attempts he quit suddenly, and drowned without attempting to release his sprayskirt.
Conclusions (Walbridge) Squirt boats are harder to handle than conventional kayaks and require great skill and fitness to paddle effectively in big water. Risa Shimoda estimates that 60-100 hours are needed for expert paddlers to become familiar with a squirt boat. Alan Connelly had between 16 and 20 hours of paddling time. This caused him to tire more easily in the cold, powerful water and made the loss of control that led to the pinning far more likely.