RAFTING GUEST LOST ON THE NORTH AMERICAN
Near Colfax, California June 11, 1995
DESCRIPTION: On Sunday, June 11th CBOC experienced what all outfitters dread. I want to describe what happened so that rumors will be minimized, guides can learn how even the best trips can go bad, and managers can get a little preparation for what is a gut-wrenching experience.
Our North Fork trip on June 11 was organized under ideal conditions. The group had been on previous trips with CBOC and had run the South Fork at a high level the previous day without difficulty. Everyone seemed to be in good condition and spirits.
The trip was made up of four boats and included guides with a minimum of three year's experience. Expecting higher flows and cooler weather, we hired a safety kayaker. He is one of the best in the world, with experience on rivers in , Chili, , and the . This trip was far below his skill level. The day before all but one of the guides ran the North Fork. They reported a smooth trip with lower than expected flows and good weather. We considered canceling the safety kayaker, but chose to honor our commitment to him.
Flow the day of the trip was 3.1' on the Iowa Hill gauge. The beginning of the trip went smoothly. The victim had requested to be in the bow right position of his raft and appeared to be doing a good job. They had a good run of the first rapid. At the end of Slaughter's Sluice, the boat veered right on a forward call, probably due to a lack of paddling on the right side.
The guide angled the raft to impact a rock head on rather than sideways, and warned the crew. There was a moderate impact with the rock. The guide checked to see that no one had fallen out of his raft, then looked downstream to scout. When he looked back at the boat, the victim was in the water. There is no explanation as to why he fell out in relatively calm water, or why he was making no effort to help himself.
The safety kayaker arrived in less than five seconds. The victim responded weakly to the kayaker's order to take hold of the grab loop on his kayak, but not to other commands.
Another raft moved into position to grab the swimmer as the safety kayaker stood by. With no help from the victim it was difficult to get him into the raft. Now they were immediately above Chamberlain Falls with good angle but no speed. The raft stalled out in the hole and turned on its side. All but one person fell out.
The safety kayaker, who had been watching the victim, pursued him. As he passed the other guests he yelled at them to swim left. On hearing this command the single remaining person in the raft jumped out and swam left.
The Safety kayaker reached the victim and turned him face up. He was completely unresponsive and he did not respond to verbal commands. As they approached Tongue and Groove the safety kayaker had no choice but to let him go, then grab him below the drop. Finding him still unresponsive, he clipped him into his PFD tow tether so he would be face up and brought him to the river left shore. A second raft arrived almost immediately. The guide and the safety kayaker began CPR.
The CPR went extremely well. The victim maintained good color and circulation, even in the tips of his toes the entire time. If there was much water in his lungs they would have not gotten these results. Two doctors from another trip arrived and assisted. The victim never showed a response.
Our guides tried so hard to revive him. They did an incredible job of rescue and CPR. We had wonderful help from the other companies and the doctors. Everyone was absolutely professional; they knew what to do and did it effectively without getting in the way.
Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the victim's family and friends. This is a shock none of us were ready for but we are dealing with by leaning on each other. Our deepest thanks to everyone who helped out.
SOURCE: Corky Collier, CBOC