Good Follow-up article: http://features.nzherald.co.nz/river-people/
The group had only just entered into Gnarly gorge — Morley went through first, followed by Ryan, with Louise trailing the pack — a decision Ryan still beats himself up over.
He routinely looked back to check on Louise’s progress. He remembers getting a glimpse of her after completing the first difficult move. When he looked back for a second time, she wasn’t there. Her paddle came downstream straight away, followed closely by her upturned yellow and lime kayak.
Don’t go upside down.
He immediately yelled ahead to Morley “swimmer”, a word that carries weighty connotations to whitewater kayakers. With the raw power of the rapids carrying the pair further away from the spot where Louise had got into difficulty, it took a huge amount of effort for them to reach the side of the gorge where they could stop and assess the situation.
“We just kind of sat there helplessly, the water was moving so fast and it was impossible to get back to where we knew Lou was,” Ryan explains.
They decided to go further downstream. Morley would wait in a slow-moving eddy, where he would be able to rescue — they still were not considering the possibility of retrieving a body — Louise if she tried to swim her way out of it. Ryan would try to climb to higher ground and walk back to the spot he had last seen her.
Fuelled by a cocktail of desperation and adrenalin, Ryan clambered up the side of the steep rock wall and along the rim of the canyon, all the while using the whistle on his life jacket to let his girlfriend know he was coming for her.
“I expected to hear her whistle back straight away,” he says, gnashing his teeth as he clenches his jaw to prevent himself from breaking down.
Hope was being chipped away with every second that ticked by. He finally reached the point in the river where he thought Louise had been ejected. There was no trace of her. After 20 minutes of increasingly frantic searching, Ryan made his way back downstream to Morley, who, with a shake of his head, heaped terror upon the dread.
Moments later, he spotted his girlfriend’s lifejacket floating in the water.
That’s when he knew.
“I just started screaming at Joe, ‘that’s her lifejacket, that’s her f****** lifejacket’.”
The force of the rapids had pushed Louise’s lifejacket over her head.
By the time police and a rescue team reached the area and were properly briefed, it was too dark to launch a search. There were fears Louise’s friends in the kayaking and rafting fraternity, who had descended on the scene en masse when they heard one of their own was missing, would go back in by themselves to try to look for her.
Those fears were founded. Morley had already taken another pass through the gorge looking for her. They knew there was no hope of finding her alive, but the thought of leaving her behind in the rapids was too much to bear.
Ryan describes returning home that night without his girlfriend as the most gut-wrenching moment of his life.
“I got back in the car to get a ride home and her clothes were still in the car. Clothes I really liked. That’s all I had left of her,” he says, crying.
“She was right behind me and then I never saw her again.”
A GoPro camera fitted to the bow of Ryan’s kayak facing back towards him was the only witness to Louise’s final moments. About a week after the accident, one of Ryan’s friends with knowledge of the river looked through the footage for him, searching for clues as to what happened.
What they know is Louise got her line slightly wrong and was sucked towards a partially submerged log, flipping awkwardly on to the debris. The positioning of the log in the middle of the flow would have made it impossible for her to right herself, forcing her to exit her kayak. As she exited, her spray skirt - what paddlers wear to clip them into their kayak - got caught on a branch protruding from the log. Unable to free herself, she was pushed under, the rapids exerting forces on her body she could not possibly extract herself from.
Her body was still ensnared on the log when a rescue team was deployed the next morning, after the river level had lowered.
Adrian Jull finds himself obsessing over the smaller details — the seemingly inconsequential elements that conspired against his daughter.
“Accidents happen because of a series of small factors, and one of those becomes important. Did a wasp go past and she flicked it and that put her off course? You know? The sequence of events we will never fully know.”
Top kayaker Louise Jull drowns near Rotorua
March 12, 2015
The woman who tragically drowned on the Kaituna River on Wednesday evening has been named as experienced kayaker Louise Jull One of New Zealand's top extreme kayakers has drowned in a river near Rotorua. The body of Louise Jull, formerly of Otaki, was recovered by police at 10am Thursday.
The 26-year-old Rotorua resident went missing while paddling on the Kaituna River, near Okere Falls, 21 kilometres east of Rotorua,.about 7pm on Wednesday. Her body was recovered a short distance from where she went missing. Jull was part of a group of three kayaking the lower Kaituna River, downstream of the Trout Pool, when she was separated from the group. The other kayakers were alerted when they noticed she was missing from her kayak, police said. The alarm was raised and a number of locals searched for her until dark.
Jull, who was a teacher at Western Heights High School in Rotorua, was the one of New Zealand's top extreme kayakers – the 2014 New Zealand extreme series women's champion after winning three of the four events in the competition. Her parents, Adrian and Liz Jull, and her older siblings Malcolm, Heather and Isobelle, have issued tributes, outlining her achievements in the sport and calling her "a strong advocate for women in kayaking". "Louise had started on a career in secondary teaching at a local Rotorua high school this year. Teaching young paddlers was an extra activity that Louise took great pleasure in; this will be one of her legacies to kayaking," they said.
"Yesterday Louise was paddling a lower section of the Kaituna River that she had paddled a number of times without mishap. The incident was a chance accident involving a highly skilled paddler practicing her sport. The two paddlers with her were very experienced, but despite their efforts they were unable to retrieve the situation. The family acknowledges a deep gratitude to the two other paddlers and to the wider community who turned out to assist in the search and rescue this morning."
Jull competed around the world as a kayaker, including Slovakia, Italy and South Africa. Her biography on her website said she became involved in extreme kayaking after her involvement in whitewater slalom kayaking. "I have a very strong passion for the sport," she wrote."It has introduced me to many amazing people, places and a way of life that pushes all elements."
Otaki Canoe Polo Club president Peter Housiaux coached Jull in her early years through the Otaki Surf Lifesaving Club and canoe club. She was a strong member of both clubs and a keen whitewater kayaker at Otaki College. "She used to paddle surf ski with surf lifesaving - she's always liked that type of craft," he said. Jull was an "extremely talented" kayaker and "lived life to the fullest", Housiaux said. "She was always a very happy sort of person, very keen to help others, coach others, encourage others to do things," he said. "And she set a pretty high benchmark for herself as well." Jull's death has been referred to the Coroner.
Louise Jull was paddling The Gnarly gorge section of the Kaituna which she had run several times previously. This is a very steep, blind, narrow section (10' wide!) with few eddies. Running last in her group, she was trapped under a log at the bottom of the first major drop/waterfall. Her group was unable to rescue her. They dropped the flow at an upstream dam the following day so they could recover her body.