Accident Database

Report ID# 4013

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • Failed Rescue
  • High Water

Accident Description

  • From North Country Rivers
  • Dead River – May 14, 2016 – 7000 CFS
  • North Country Rivers commercial rafting trip – 44 commercial guests, 6 guides in training, 9 licensed Registered Maine guides. 8 rafts.
  • All guests had full wetsuits, booties, splash jackets, type 5 life jackets and helmets. Guides had either dry suits or full wetsuit gear.
  • The trip was pulled over to rest (10-15 minutes) prior to entering Upper and Lower Poplar.
  • Air temperature – 74 degrees, water temp was upper 40’s.
  • NCR trip of 8 guided rafts entered Lower Poplar, the rafts were running tight for safety, visual contact was made with 2-3 rafts in front and behind each raft.
  • Raft #6 dump trucked all 6 guests, the guide stayed in the raft. The dump truck occurred 50-100 yards above and right of “fryolator” - large recirculating hole on the left side of the river. The raft and all guests stayed right and avoided “fryolator”.
  • The guide immediately, within seconds of the dump, extended his paddle to the victim, tapped him on the shoulder and told him to grab the paddle. The victim was unresponsive. The victim was 52 years old.
  • The trip leader saw the raft and swimmers, he alerted all guides with a whistle blast three times. All rafts downstream of the swimmers initiated rescue. 5 customers were pulled in by one raft. The sixth customer was pulled in by raft #2. CPR was initiated immediately, in the raft, by the guide and two customers with advanced EMT training. Two other rafts towed the rescue raft to shore while the CPR continued. The victim was moved to shore, CPR continued throughout. Approximate time the victim was in the water ranged from 1-3 minutes based on statements of the guides.
  • Two major medical kits were delivered to the rescuers on shore from raft #4 and raft #8, my raft. CPR continued. 4 guides and two customer (EMT trained continued CPR)
  • A fisherman with a truck assisted, the victim was transported to the fisherman’s truck and evacuated to Magic Falls Rafting Companies base. 3 guides and one EMT continued CPR while the trip leader jumped in the cab of the truck and assisted the fisherman with navigation to the Magic Falls Rafting Site. He communicated with and calmed the driver.
  • During the initial CPR on shore, I contacted EMS via cell phone, described the situation (unresponsive victim in his 50’s, CPR initiated) and requested an ambulance and assistance.
  • The victim was transferred to an ambulance in West Forks, Maine. He was coded by the EMT in the ambulance. Guides estimated CPR continued non-stop for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  • I divided all guests among remaining rafts, and continued the trip to the Crusher Pool take out. At the take-out, I immediately transported the remaining 17 customers in the victims group to Bingham.
  • 3 Maine DIFW game wardens arrived, they informed me that the victim had died, they also took statements and initiated communication with the Lexington, MA  Law enforcement to contact family members.
Due to the fact that the victim was immediately unresponsive it's likely there was a pre-existing medical issue.

Lexington resident dies on rafting trip with Scouts

By Al Gentile

Posted May. 16, 2016

LEXINGTON, MA: Michael Arena, of Centre Street in Lexington, died May 14 during a white water rafting trip in town of Forks, Maine. Arena, who was chaperoning the trip with Boy Scout Troop 160 of which his son David is a member, was thrown from the boat when powerful waves nearly flipped the boat, said Sgt. Chris Simmons with the Maine Warden Service. The group was traveling down the Dead River in The Forks, Maine, when the boat was nearly flipped over and the “possibility is great” that Arena likely died from drowning because he was being pushed under strong turbulent waves, said Simmons.

The State of Maine Medical Examiner’s Office had not confirmed a cause of death as of Monday morning, said Simmons. “It does not appear to be head trauma,” Simmons said. The Medical Examiner’s office did not respond to a phone call. Simmons confirmed CPR was administered immediately to Arena, and Arena was transported to the hospital where it was confirmed he could not be revived.

“As the boat climbs the wave, the actual boat goes right up, but because it was on the edge of a wave, it rolled to the right-hand side, throwing everybody off the right-hand side of the boat,” Simmons said. The 13 scouts and six adult chaperons in the boat, except for the guide, were thrown into the river. “He was able to stay in, and the rescue was immediate,” Simmons said.

Troop 160 Scout Master Hank Manz said the participants on the trip, the troop as a whole and the Lexington Community, are deeply affected by the incident. Manz was not on the trip. “We are all, of course, deeply saddened by this event. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Arena family. I can only imagine how awful this is for them. We are also concerned about the effects on all those who were part of the event and all families involved in scouting in Lexington,” Manz said in an email statement. “The outpouring of sympathy and the offers of help which started almost immediately after the accident has made me appreciate even more how wonderful Lexington is.”

The Dead River is dam-released water is released in regular intervals to create the conditions needed for white water rafting, Simmons said. He said there was no malfunction in the releasing mechanism. “It’s a set amount, but it’s the same amount they always have on a Dead River release,” Simmons said. Simmons said it is not uncommon for boats to flip during white water rafting trips.

Massachusetts man dies in West Forks rafting accident

By Rachel Ohm Staff Writer | @rachel_ohm | 207-612-2368

A Massachusetts man died Saturday after falling out of a raft while on a whitewater rafting trip in the West Forks, according to the Maine Warden Service. Michael Arena, 52, of Lexington, Massachusetts, was on a commercial rafting trip with North Country Rivers, a whitewater rafting outfitter out of Bingham, when he fell out of the raft as they were going through a series of rapids on the Dead River, Cpl. John MacDonald of the warden service said in an email Monday. Arena was chaperoning a trip with a Boy Scout troop that included his son, according to the Wicked Local Lexington newspaper. The paper reported that Arena was thrown from the boat, along with 13 scouts and six other adult chaperons, by powerful waves that nearly flipped it over. Only the rafting guide was not thrown from the boat, the paper said.

Jim Murton, the owner of North Country Rivers, said Monday that “the rafting trips are safe. There are no problems at all with the trips. It was an accident.” Murton declined to comment further. Upper Kennebec Valley Ambulance responded and pronounced Arena deceased at the scene, MacDonald said. The incident remains under investigation, and no further information was available, he said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

From Skip Morris, AW Northeast Region Streamkeeper

The Raft tilted (but did not flip) on a big breaking wave in the upper part of Lower Poplar Rapid, about 50-100 yards upstream of the Fry-o-lator Hole aka Unemployment Hole (itself located on river-left about 1/4 way down Lower Poplar).

All passengers (but not the raft guide) spilled out to the right side of the raft.

The Breaking Wave and Fry-o-lator holes are not significant features below 5000 cfs. At 6000cfs and greater they are more pronounced. The river level on the day of the accident was 7000cfs (verified against the old [retired] USGS gage (ID: 01045000).

Standing wave is located upstream of the Fry-o-lator Hole, left-of-center, but to right of Fry-o-lator. Rafts typically take a left-to-right line thru this wave to avoid Fry-o-lator which can be a keeper (but is not known to form a hydraulic).

There were 19 people in the Boy Scout group (from Lexington, MA) in several rafts. The passengers from this raft were two adult chaperones and four boy scouts, The 52-year-old victim was in the water 4-6 feet from raft. The guide reached out with his paddle within seconds of him entering the water yelling to grab the paddle, then tapping his shoulder with paddle. He did not respond. He was pulled into the raft within a minute of entering the water. He was completely unresponsive at that point with no pulse; CPR was started.

There was a Paramedic and an EMT present among the customers who continued administering aid.

At the bottom of Lower Poplar aid from a local fisherman was enlisted to call EMS. He also provided a truck for initial transport to a location reachable by EMS.

The water was cold, estimated about 45 degrees. The victim was wearing a full wet suit, but since Lower Poplar is the final rapid on the river (12 miles into the trip) exhaustion or cold may have been a factor. Official cause of death has not yet been stated.

Weeks later:

I just got off the phone with the Chief Medical Examiners office in Maine. The cause of death for the accident on the Dead May 14 was definitely drowning. There was no evidence of stroke, heart attack, or even hypothermia (they told me the doctors usually note that if detected). This seems surprising to me given that he went unresponsive immediately and was only in the water a short time before CPR was started.

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