Accident Database

Report ID# 3806

  • Equipment Trap
  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

Two paddlers capsized a canoe while checking a crawdad trap. Neither person wore a PFD; one swam to shore, the other drowned (the cold water caused muscle cramps) while attempting to swim to shore towing the canoe. USGS Site 11502500 indicates flows of 500cfs and 52*-58* water temps for the week of the accident. T

By DAVE MARTINEZ H&N Staff Reporter

t may have been complacency that led to a fatal plunge into the Williamson River for one boater Saturday, said a friend involved in the accident. Justin Sigman, 30, died after he and friend Chris Ofsthun, 30, capsized in a canoe. Recounting the events, Ofsthun told the Herald and News he hopes other boaters can learn from the mistakes made that led to the drowning. The two started their day fishing for trout near Rocky Point. They returned to Sigman’s home around 7 p.m. for dinner with his wife.

Sigman changed into boots and jeans and, after dinner, the two men decided they would check a few crawdad traps set in the Williamson. They brought life jackets to the dock but forgot to bring them when they paddled out on a 14-foot canoe. As Sigman pulled up a trap, Ofsthun began to paddle up stream on his right side. That’s when the canoe capsized and the two men were sent into the frigid water. They both came up for air and Ofsthun began to make his way back to shore, about 60 feet away, on his back. Sigman said he wanted to bring the canoe back and tried tugging the vessel behind him. Ofsthun told him to leave the canoe and get to shore.

After about five minutes in the water, Ofsthun could feel the cold water cramping his muscles. He looked back to see Sigman struggling. Sigman yelled out about his boots and went under, likely to discard the high-top, leather shoes. He came back up, said something about not being able to make it, then went under again. Ofsthun started swimming back for his friend but felt his legs cramping heavily. He pulled himself back by a rope hanging from the dock.

A neighbor came outside and yelled at him from shore. Then, a car came down a hill, hauling a drift boat. The man driving the car launched the drift boat into the water and Ofsthun got in, barely able to stand. The two paddled out to Sigman, finding him by a headlamp still lit underneath the water. They pulled Sigman into the boat and Ofsthun started CPR. The drift boat was rowed back to shore and the men climbed out, continuing CPR as the neighbor called 911. When paramedics arrived, they attempted to use a defibrillator on Sigman, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ofsthun said both men were athletic and capable of swimming. It was the cold water, clothes and lack of life jacket that was the fatal mistake for Sigman, Ofsthun said. The biggest contributing factor that led to Sigman’s death was the lack of life jackets, Ofsthun said. Other items on the dock allowed the two men to overlook the personal flotation devices. “It’s the simple things; you get complacent,” Ofsthun said. “You don’t think about the shoes you wear.”

On Wednesday, the Oregon Institute of Technology remembered Sigman, who was a manager of the Tech Nest bookstore, in a press release: “Justin was well known around the campus as a fun and likable person who was truly genuine,” the release said. “Everyone is just devastated. In a very short time, Justin had become an integral part of the Oregon Tech family,” OIT President Chris Maples is quoted as saying in the release. “He embraced the small-college ideal and touched many lives while he was here.”

Herald and News 2701 Foothills Blvd. Klamath Falls, OR 97603

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