I was running safety for an assistant guide training class for my new employer (Get Your Gear On). My fellow guide trainees had limited to no SWR skills. We were at Shandon rapid (class II+) to practice boat handling skills in current. Air temperature was 65 degrees and very windy (20-30 mph), water temperature was 50 degrees. Most of my guides did not have wetsuits or drysuits, but had adequate PFDs, helmets, drytops, etc. I was wearing a Kokatat drysuit with appropriate under layers, rescue PFD, helmet, gloves, etc. I am ACA SWR trained and had set safety at bottom of rapid.
Several of our students made successful runs through the rapid and then I noticed a new craft at the top of the rapid that I did not recognize. As the craft came closer, I noticed neither occupant (there were two) had a PFD on and the canoe was greatly overloaded with coolers, fishing rods, and other gear causing the canoe to take on water as they approached. There is a tricky rock hidden in the bottom run out of this rapid and I noticed that they were headed for it and were likely to upset. They capsized and as they floated towards me, I noticed that they had their feet down and were trying to gain footing to save the gear that was starting to float out of the water-filled canoe.
I gained their attention and pulled one of the victims (Cory) from the water onto my rock perch. Cory told me "You better throw him (Mike) that rope. I don't think he swims well." At that point, I maneuvered in front of Cory to deploy my rope, but I couldn't because Mike was still struggling to hold onto canoe and I was worried of rope entanglement. Mike finally released his hold on the canoe and at the same time I threw him the rope, his friend jumped back into the river after the canoe and gear exclaiming "save the cooler". Mike grabbed the rope and I told him I would swing him in. As tension came on the line, he (Mike) pendulumed to the bottom of the river... disappearing from view. I was shocked at the scene for a moment as I knew that he was trapped in a heads-down foot entrapment.
I knew I had to enter the water with no live bait safety precautions set. There wasn't time. I dove into the water planeing my body down to the bottom and did not instantly find him. After a second, his arm appeared in view, I grabbed it and pulled myself into his body while finding footholds. I grabbed him with both hands on his shirt and stood him up, bringing his head above water. I did not have a good hold on him and was struggling for footing. I hollered to him "Are you free?" He couldn't tell me right away what the problem was.
As I held him with one hand and paddled to stay in current with the other hand, I yelled to my onshore assistant guide trainees to throw me a rope. At first, my guides could not locate one of two ropes we had for them and when found, made a throw that missed me from directly at my side. One more throw was made from this direction. This was no good at that angle and I was losing strength and couldn't hold my victim and talk at the same time(very frustrating to me). At one point, I lost total contact with my victim (Mike) and regained footing and made my way back upstream as his head went under water again(I could tell he was getting tired). This allowed me to properly inform my ground crew to throw me a line from upstream. As they scrambled to get upstream, I quickly waded up-river and back out to Mike regaining hold of him and bringing his head above the surface - allowing him to breathe.
At this time, I asked Mike again "What has you?" He replied, "Rope. I need a knife." I held him as I was thrown a line from approximately sixty feet upstream. I had just taught a throw rope lesson that morning and was pleased when a good throw was made and was properly belayed. This tag line from a better angle, which was inadvertently vector-pulled in the proper direction, allowed me to both stabilize and move Mike upstream approximately a foot or two, which allowed me to slide my hand down the back of his leg and find the rope. Once I knew what was actually entrapping him, I submerged and deployed my sheathed river knife and quickly cut the line. It actually cut free a lot easier than I thought it would. I re-emerged grabbing Mike and got him to shore where I was helped by three or four of my guide trainees. As I released Mike to them, I yelled for them to place hands on him all the way to shore.
I advised Mike to seek medical treatment as I thought he ingested a lot of river water. Mike and I were in the water for over six or seven minutes( 50degrees/fast current). Once on shore, I asked about victim #1, Cory, and was informed of his location and he was safe downstream approximately 100 yards (within view of me). I immediately started a "sample" of Mike's condition. He was mildly hypothermic and starting to shiver and stammer his words. I asked him "Was there any other conditions that I should know of", to which he told me he was fine. I immediately stripped him down to underwear while procuring dry clothes off of the various students. We gave him water and food (some gorp) as I had him resting then walking around in the sun(I did this repeatedly as I kept him talking). While I had him walking, I was in physical contact with him, as I did not want him to fall. Once I had Mike's condition stabilized (not shivering/stammering anymore), I made my way downstream to check on Cory. I took my lead guide to help after I had left instructions for how to care for Mike. When we approached Cory, he was hanging pieces of his clothing on tree limbs and told me he was OK. I offered a drytop to him to wear. He initially refused, but with a little coaxing he accepted the garment. We told him his friend was OK and he asked about a lost paddle and that they would have trouble without two paddles(we had extra paddles to lend) making it to the take-out at Rosewood landing. I informed him that we(guide trainees) had found all gear lost and had it upstream with Mike. He was a little defensive with us and I at that point told him to paddle up to us when ready.
Mike's color was back to healthy looking and was smiling. When Cory paddled back up I noticed that they had no pfds in possession, only throw-able seat cushions. There were a few empty beer cans but neither seemed to be intoxicated. We had no extra pfds for them (we will carry a few extras next time) and I told them how to return our gear to the store. They made it to takeout with no more incidents.
I later found that both( Cory and Mike ) had boated that section of river many times but neither had any formal water training. Neither had a pfd or adequate clothing for immersion. Their boat was under sized for the load it was carrying and they had an unsecured poly anchor line which caused the entrapment. Alcohol was present. The victims did not know to swim with feet up. Cory told me that Mike was not a good swimmer. The unsecured line and Mike struggling to control a swamped canoe caused the accident. I was very lucky to be at the right place with the skills to do something. I was very worried about Mike panicking and drowning me. I held him up while keeping him at arms distance. I have defended wearing my knife for years and without it I could not have freed him. I did notice that I hadn't fully "burped" my drysuit and the air was ballooning up in my arms almost causing me to float away as I held him above the water. I am having a little difficulty with the stress of the incident( mainly sleep related). I have a good support group of experienced first responders who are helping me deal with it.... I know Mike is one lucky person!!!
TEXT ATTACHMENTS Below is a link to the video documentation of the rescue. Skipping to minute 4 will allow you to get to the rescue footage more quickly. Please let me know if I need to get a copy of this video to send you in another format.