Accident Database: Accident #3906

Date: 2014-11-30
Victim: Xavier A. Engle
Victim Age: 27
River: Stillaguamish, S. Fork (3 - Verlot to Granite Falls
Reach #:
Stillaguamish, S. Fork [WA]
Section: 3 - Verlot to Granite Falls (Robe Canyon Run)
Gauge: 6'
Water Level: High
River Difficulty: V
Accident Cause: Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
Cause Code(s): Flush Drowning
Injury Type(s): Does not Apply
Factors Code(s): High Water
Age: 27
Experienced/Inexperienced: Expert Paddler
Private/Commercial: Private
Boat Type: Whitewater Kayak
Group Info:
Other Victim Names:
Detailed Description:

"The water was high that day but certainly not too high for this crew and they knew the run. It's a tragic reminder of how unforgiving class V can be--despite the high skill level of the individuals in that group, that run still has high objective danger due to the power and continuous nature of the whitewater. "

Tom O'Keefe


Renowned kayaker who died in Stillaguamish identified

Posted by Jennifer Sullivan

A renowned kayaker who was attending UW Medical School has been identified as the man who died in the Stillaguamish River, near Granite Falls, on Nov. 30. Xavier A. Engle drowned in the river, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Engle, 27, grew up in Anchorage and moved to Seattle after attending Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He was enrolled at the University of Washington School of Medicine, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. But what he was best known for in Alaska, and among paddlers, was his whitewater boating skill. Engle spent summers as a raft guide, was one of the stars in the 2010 film “New Horizon: An All-Alaskan Whitewater Film,” and he paddled for a time as a sponsored athlete for Fluid Kayaks, according to a story in the Alaska Dispatch News.

Engle was reportedly paddling in the Stillaguamish with friends when his boat overturned and he fell out of the kayak. News media reported Engle’s friends were unable to resuscitate him or pull him to shore. His body was recovered by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office on Monday. The Alaska Dispatch News said Engle was familiar with tough rivers and had honed his skills in challenging whitewater. “Few people I have ever met in my lifetime had as much charisma or good energy as Xav emitted,” friend Tim Johnson, another noted Alaska kayaker, told the Dispatch News. “I met Xav a long time ago, before he was old enough to drive. I would pick him up at his house almost every week to go whitewater kayaking down the local rivers and creeks here around Anchorage.” --

Noted Alaska kayaker dies in Washington river

Craig Medred

December 2, 2014

One of the best and brightest young U.S. paddlers died in a kayaking accident near Seattle on Sunday. Twenty-seven-year-old Xavier Engle of Anchorage -- a graduate of West High School and Dartmouth College -- was living in the Seattle area while enrolled in the WWAMI Regional Medical Education Program at the University of Washington, which trains physicians for the Northwest. Engle had already completed a fellowship at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and become a cancer researcher during his undergraduate years at Dartmouth. But what he was best known for in Alaska, and among paddlers, was his whitewater boating skill. Engle spent summers as a raft guide, was one of the stars in the 2010 film "New Horizon: An All-Alaskan Whitewater Film," and he paddled for a time as a sponsored athlete for Fluid Kayaks.

Engle drowned after an accident on the Stillaguamish River. Details remain sketchy. KOMO News in Seattle reported he was padding in the river's Robe Canyon with two friends when he apparently overturned and came out of his boat. "He was located by friends several minutes after he went under, but they were unable to bring him to shore or resuscitate him,'' the station reported. The Seattle Times reported that his body was recovered Monday.

American Whitewater calls the Stillaguamish a Class V "creek run with a big-water feel.'' "Considered one of North America's classic whitewater runs, and the Class V standard for boaters in Western Washington, the run starts with 5 1/2 miles of class I/II before slamming into a 3-mile canyon of class IV, V, and V+ rapids,'' says the organization's website. Engle, who honed his paddling skills on the Kenai Peninsula's Six Mile Creek with its Class V whitewater, was familiar with paddling in such conditions.

He lived life by the motto that headlined the story he wrote for the front page of The '09 Grapevine at Dartmouth in June 2011: "Work Hard, Play Harder.'' "Few people I have ever met in my lifetime had as much charisma or good energy as Xav emitted,'' said friend Tim Johnson, another noted Alaska kayaker who's significantly older than Engle. "I met Xav a long time ago, before he was old enough to drive. I would pick him up at his house almost every week to go white-water kayaking down the local rivers and creeks here around Anchorage. "We were good paddling buddies, good skiing buddies, went on incredibly epic adventures together here in Alaska, filmed a kayaking movie together, and spent a large amount of time hanging out around campfires playing instruments and pondering the next adventure. Xavier and I pondered the idea of starting a new white-water festival in Alaska on Six Mile Creek back in 2007, which finally happened a little after Xav left the state (to pursue his medical education) and is now the Six Mile Creek Whitewater & Bluegrass Festival."

Friends were flooding his Facebook page with tributes on Monday. Not only was Engle well-known in Anchorage, but so was his mother, Pam Engle, a longtime physician's assistant at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center. Engle credited her with helping get him started on the path toward becoming a doctor. "So the truth is, a big part of me never wanted to go to college,'' he wrote in that June edition of the Dartmouth Grapevine. "My senior year of high school, I was all set on taking at least a year off to go wander and explore rivers and mountains all over the world. Fortunately for me, my mom convinced me to at least apply to schools. I lucked out and got into Dartmouth, was stoked to have the chance to go to a school where I could pursue both my outdoor passions and academic goals, and the rest was history.'' Xav was a well respected member of the paddling community here. He sent me a note last year that he was hoping to ultimately move to Washington due to the great class V whitewater. He was an active supporter of American Whitewater among the crowd of young guns who are here charging hard on class V.

They were on Robe Canyon:

It was just above 6' on Sunday. That is considered a high water run--although some call it the "new medium--but more folks are running it high. Here's what we say on our website about flows for Robe: USGS gauge SF Stillaguamish nr. Granite Falls. The USGS has not recently taken discharge measurements here so there is no stage-discharge curve for this site. On the staff gauge 4.0-4.7 is the lower range of flows and although it's slightly more forgiving some bad sieves open up and pin potential is high. At 5.0-5.8 the river becomes much more pushy but sieve danger goes down--many consider flows of 5.4-5.6 to be ideal. Above 5.8 the river jumps up another notch and becomes even more pushy and strong class V skills are required. I do not know exactly what happened. I am guessing a swim and flush drowning. I think I know who was with him but they have not posted any details that I have seen on what happened.

On November 30, 2014, renowned kayaker and third year UW medical student Xavier Engle was killed in a tragic kayaking accident in Robe Canyon of the S. Fork Stillaguamish River.  Engle was known for not only his world class kayaking skills, but also for his varied academic and medical pursuits, his humility and care for the less fortunate, and his intense zest for life.  Engle touched deeply the lives of many who knew him.


Engle and two companions, Brad Xanthopolous and Evan Bouchier, began their run through the Class V canyon at mid-day on that chilly Sunday.  All three had paddled the canyon dozens of times previously, and were intimately familiar with it. The flow was dropping out from a recent major rain event and was still relatively high, but all three had made the run at significantly higher water levels.


Trouble started for Engle in 'T1' the very first drop in the canyon.  He flipped and, unable to execute a successful roll, floated upside down through 'T2' the second rapid, with Brad close by his side.  In the hydraulic at the end of 'T2', Engle's boat tangled with Xanthopolous', and both kayakers exited their boats to swim for their lives.  Xanthopolous managed to reach the steep bank on river left and pull himself out of the water immediately above 'Last Sunshine', the biggest drop on the run, while Engle swam through the treacherous river right channel of the rapid. He then flushed downstream through nearly a half mile of whitewater including several major rapids.  Bouchier, coming from behind, gave chase to Xavier and they eventually made contact, but were unable to execute a boat rescue. When Bouchier finally got Engle to the shore, he was unable to revive with CPR.  Engle’s death was likely a combination of hypothermia, drowning, and trauma in the last rapid.


Evan Bouchier



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