Accident Database

Report ID# 4034

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Near Drowning
  • Poor Group / Scene Management
  • Poor Planning

Accident Description

Two intermediate/somewhat experienced paddlers, this author and another paddler, encountered a series of horeshoe shaped lowhead dams, near the end of our run, that were constructed to help stop the erosion of the creek banks. I boofed the edge into an eddy and looked back to see that the other paddler landed in the middle of one of the dams and was sucked back in.

The only throw bag was in the boat that was now recirculating alongside the other paddler. I paddled in to try and pull him out, but was turned around and now my stern was facing upstream and being pushed under by the incoming current. The other paddler was on my bow and his weight would pull the bow back down. We went through this motion a few times, with some paddling and bracing in between, before I told him that he had to let go. He let go and I was taken into the incoming current, stood up and was out of my boat shortly after.

At this time, two paddlers, two creek boats and one paddle are continuously recirculating. The way this dam is shaped, everything is pushed towards the center and the boil line is probably 25 feet downstream (see the video of boats recirculating - my red Prijon is 8'8"). I attempted to swim sideways as you would in a rip current, tried to reach down to grab clean water and swim downstream with no luck. We were continuously pushed into the dam, then down and back up. Also, the boats were literally beating us throughout the entire ordeal. This seemed to have gone on for twenty minutes and I came to the conclusion that we were done as I was choking on water and running out of energy.

Then, I got to an area where I wasn't being pushed out, but also wasn't being sucked back in. A few swim strokes and I got to the side. Exhausted, I grabbed a branch or piece of tree, reached out and pulled the other guy out of the current. He sat on a rock in the creek, out of breath/energy and white as a ghost. We flagged down a vehicle shortly after and used a piece of rebar, rope and tree branches to retrieve the boats. We didn't wind up with any physical injuries, but it creeps me out whenever I think about it. The creek stripped the other paddler of his throw bag, a tow line he had around his waist, several carabiners, his paddle and some padding from his boat. I suffered some scratches on my helmet from being pushed into the dam head first.

Kayakers thankful for life

Robert Baker

Published: May 21, 2014

A pair of experienced kayakers, traveling down the Mehoopany Creek over the weekend, consider themselves lucky to be alive after their watercraft capsized in a hydraulic. Carleton Henning, 36, of Tunkhannock, said he had been kayaking down the creek at least 30 times over the last three years, and grew up nearby. But, this time, Henning said it was a sensation of being stuck in a washing machine and not knowing how to get out. He and his buddy Joe Karlavige from the Scranton area were kayaking down the creek on Saturday (May 17) when they approached a pool area that had been formed by water ledges placed there in the last couple of years in an erosion control project by the Mehoopany Creek Watershed Association designed to slow the water down.

Henning worries that the ledges could become death traps for kayakers and paddlers because they create re-circulating hydraulics, which apparently become more dangerous the faster the water is moving. “You have no idea of the hydraulics of something like that,” Henning said Monday night. “It sucked both of us in.” Waterways Conservation Ffficer Kadin Thompson of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission said he was unfamiliar with the precise area where the kayakers were, but said his agency’s Bureau of Law Enforcement does follow low-head dams which create the same manner of turbulence the kayakers encountered. Capt. Tom Burrelle of the Bureau’s Harrisburg office said Tuesday that the state Department of Environmental Protection would have to do an inspection and if signage warranted it becomes the domain of the landowner, and then PFBC monitors that it is properly posted.

Henning said what he encountered was scary enough, he just wanted to help prevent it from happening to anyone else who boats, and to warn them about the large changes to both branches of the Mehoopany as a result of the rock ledges. Video link to the creek boats recirculating in the downstream pointed, horseshoe shaped lowhead dam posted below:

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