Accident Database

Report ID# 4019

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

 May 4, 2016 5:17 PM

Man dies after raft flips on Wenatchee River

The Associated Press

DRYDEN, WA: Authorities say a man in his 50s died while rafting on the Wenatchee River. The Chelan County Sheriff's Office said in a news release that a commercial raft with the man, a teenage girl and raft operator flipped Wednesday afternoon. The sheriff's office says both the man and the girl were thrown from the raft and that the girl climbed back on but the man could not.

A kayaker traveling with the raft assisted the man to shore where authorities say CPR was performed to no avail. The man and girl were wearing wet suits and life jackets.

Shelton man dies in rafting accident on Wenatchee River

By KOMO News

Thursday, May 5th 2016

DRYDEN, Wash. - A man who died Wednesday in a rafting accident on the Wenatchee River has been identified as a Mason County resident. Keith M. Thomas, 53, of Shelton died after a commercial raft operated by Orion River Rafting of Leavenworth flipped over, ejecting him and two others into the cold waters of the river, said Chief Dave Helvey of the Chelan County Sheriff's Office. The two others - a teenage girl and the raft operator - were able to climb back into the raft, but Thomas could not.

A safety kayaker accompanying the raft attempted to assist Thomas back to shore. Rescuers arrived on the scene and performed CPR on Thomas for more than 30 minutes but were unable to revive him. Both Thomas and the girl were wearing wet suits and life vests. An autopsy is planned to officially confirm Thomas' cause and manner of death.

On the afternoon of May 4, 2016 the Wenatchee River was flowing at 10,900 cfs, a high flow but typical for spring trips on one of Washington State’s most popular whitewater rivers. The victim, Keith M. Thomas, 53, was on a guided commercial raft trip with his 15-year-old daughter when their raft flipped in Rock and Roll in the large hole known as Satan’s Eyeball. The guide and both passengers were thrown into the water. The guide was able to flip the raft back over but both the victim and his daughter had become separated from the boat. With the assistance of a rescue kayaker traveling with the raft, the guide was able to get the daughter back in the raft. The rescue kayaker was then able to reach the victim and instructed him to hang on to the back deck of her kayak as she pulled him to shore.
A swift and efficient rescue below Rock and Roll is important at higher flows because the Dryden Dam, a lowhead dam with a dangerous hydraulic that is typically portaged, is located just over 1/2 mile downstream. As the rescue kayaker passed the mouth of Peshastin Creek, a tributary entering from river right immediately upstream of the dam, she instructed the victim to swim to shore shortly before reaching the portage trail for the dam. This can be a challenging move for inexperienced swimmers because the current of the creek entering the river tends to make it difficult to reach shore especially at higher flows. The victim was unable to reach the river right shore and was swept over the Dryden Dam. A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife employee was at the dam on river right and realized the victim was in distress and had a throw bag but felt the victim was out of range.
After the victim floated over the dam, the WDFW employee observed the victim recirculate twice in the hydraulic at the base of the dam. The victim then moved further out of throw bag range along the boil line toward the center of the river, ultimately floating free of the hydraulic, and continued downstream at which point he still appeared to be conscious. The victim continued on for another 3/4 mile of class II/III wave trains below the dam. The rescue kayaker was eventually able to reach the victim below Shark’s Tooth, approximately 1.6 miles downstream of the original incident site at Satan’s Eyeball, and immediately began CPR. Search and rescue were on site within 30 minutes of the 911 call that was placed shortly after the victim passed over the Dryden Dam. After approximately 55 minutes of CPR, the victim was pronounced dead by medics. The weight and fitness level of the victim, along with the fact that he was a non-swimmer, were likely contributing factors. While the victim was wearing a drysuit and PFD, he was not wearing a helmet.

Thomas O’Keefe, PhD
Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director
American Whitewater
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115

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