Accident Database

Report ID# 3922

  • Equipment Trap
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

This fatality happened in Redwood NP at a place most of us call Rocky Gap. That's what it's called in California Creekin' and that's what everybody in the park calls it. It is about 4.5 miles upstream of the Tall Trees Grove in the park. Except for Rocky Gap, the hazards in Redwood Creek are wood, particularly large root wads from redwood trees and debris piles.

A park geologist who is a member of the local volunteer fire department emergency response team and a rafter/kayaker, said he talked to one of the two survivors when they got to Orick at about 2330 hours. It's about 12-13 miles from the accident site to Orick, all of which is class 1 or 2. They were in a Sotar cataraft that EMS estimated to be about 13'. The cataraft had a punctured tube when it got to Orick. The gear looked like it belonged to someone who knew what he was doing.

The rower told Neal that he cleaned his line in the rapid but then couldn't talk much more about the incident. Neal didn't want to ask too many more questions of two guys who had just rafted 13 miles in a half-deflated boat carrying the body of a companion. Neal said it looked like the victim was wearing fishing waders. Definitely not dry suits or wet suits.

Having only seen photos of Rocky Gap from river level, and heard reports from park staff who snorkel it at low flows for summer fish surveys, I don't think there are a lot of places to stand and hold a throw line when there is enough water to boat it. You have to cross posted private property at the put-in, and there are no roads down to the creek until you get to Orick. There are a couple park hiking trails that get to river (right) below Rocky Gap, one at Emerald Ridge and one at Tall Trees Grove. Each trail is about 1.5 miles from creek to trailhead, which is behind a locked park gate. There are a couple park trail on river left below Tall Trees Grove but the old logging roads have been removed, so there is no road access to the creek in the national park. I have heard it's a difficult portage because you have to climb up onto big boulders and hike about a quarter mile through poison oak to get around the rapid. If you get too far from the creek, you are in trailless old growth forest that is extremely difficult to negotiate on foot, even without a boat. Rocky Gap is the primary reason that this run is seldom done.

UPDATE, 2/17: The Humboldt County Coroner’s Office told the North Coast Journal that the man who drowned was 33-year-old Eureka resident Jonathan Walsh Mellon. The case is being treated as an unfortunate accident and no criminal investigation is expected.

Original Post: From the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office: On 02/13/15 at about 2252 hours, deputies were dispatched to the area of the Redwood Creek Bridge in Orick for a report of a possible drowning that occurred. Deputies arrived on scene at about 2330 hours, and located a white Ford truck with a boat and trailer on the river bar northwest of the Redwood Creek Bridge. Two subjects reported their friend had drowned and was currently in the boat on the trailer.

The victim and his two companions started their three day rafting trip at Stover Bridge on Redwood Creek and planned on rafting down the river over the next three days. At approximately 1600hrs., the group reached Redwood Falls, 12 miles from Orick. The victim and one companion exited the boat and proceeded down river, while the other companion negotiated the falls. The victim and his companion set up a series of safety ropes to assist in catching the boat if it didn’t make it through the falls safely. The boat made it safely through the falls, but the victim was caught in the safety rope and unable to free himself.

Once the companions were able to reach the victims location in the water 15-20 minutes had gone by. When the companions reached the victim he was deceased. Due to the remoteness of the area, the companions were unable to notify the authorities at the time. The two companions transported the victim, by boat, the remaining distance to Orick, where they contacted law enforcement.

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