Officials won't remove root where Arkansas woman drowned
Wes Johnson, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader
June 18, 2016 HARRISON, Ark. — A root wad that trapped and killed an Arkansas woman after her canoe overturned Sunday in the Buffalo National River likely won't be removed because of the difficulty in reaching it, park officials say. "It may be physically impossible to remove this without heavy equipment, and it is next to impossible to get heavy equipment into this area without doing some major tree clearing and road building," said Buffalo National River park spokesman Caven Clark. "It is my understanding there have been numerous people who have paddled this section with no problem."
The incident near the Hasty access point claimed the life of Kristen Johnson, 25, of Benton, Arkansas, who was paddling a rented canoe with another woman when they encountered the root wad sticking up out of the water. Newton County Sheriff's Investigator Glenn Wheeler said the canoe capsized either just ahead of the root wad or after floating up against it. "Both women went into the water, but one became pinned underwater by the canoe and she became entangled in the roots," Wheeler said. "This happened in 4 or 5 feet of water. The river was low to normal at the time, but it started to rise and flow faster after rescuers were able to get there, due to thunderstorms in the area."
Wheeler said a group of paddlers tried to pull the submerged canoe off the root wad but were unable to because it was sideways to the river, with the full force of the water holding it against the roots. Johnson was not wearing a life jacket, though Wheeler said that would not have helped in this instance. A fellow paddler discovered he had a cellphone signal and was able to call for help.
Wheeler said that because of the location, with no nearby roads, it took rescue personnel about an hour to reach the site by both jetboat and canoes. A dive team was on standby, but Wheeler said it was too risky to try to send them into the root wad, since the current had picked up speed, the water had quickly become murky with rain runoff and there was a significant risk of a diver's gear getting entangled in the roots. The woman's body was eventually recovered shortly before sunset.
The accident is a reminder of how powerful a river can be, and how quickly a pleasant day's float can go seriously wrong. Wheeler said the best way to avoid trouble is to steer clear of obstacles in the river whenever possible. There was plenty of room to paddle around the root wad, and many other paddlers successfully navigated around it, Wheeler said. "It seemed less hazardous than other root wads you see in the river," he said. But if your canoe does capsize, Wheeler said paddlers should try to get away from the boat and never be on the downstream side of the canoe. "If you're between the boat and an obstacle, you won't be able to move that canoe because of the power of the water," he said. "We typically have ropes and pulleys to dislodge a pinned canoe, but sometimes if you push one end of the canoe down on the current side, it can dislodge the boat. "If your canoe is stuck against a tree or root wad we also recommend getting a ride downstream with another canoe and letting the outfitter deal with it, since they have the experience to get boats out. It can be a very dangerous situation for anyone who's not trained." If a canoe gets stuck sideways against an obstacle, Wheeler said paddlers should lean downstream to help the water flow beneath the boat. If they lean upstream, the current can quickly roll and swamp a canoe.
Some other tips: Don't grab onto overhanging tree limbs. Doing so can easily destabilize a canoe in the current. Always wear a life jacket, even if you're a strong swimmer. If walking a canoe or kayak around an obstacle, hold onto the upstream end. Trying to pull the boat from the downstream end can cause it to quickly pivot and knock you off your feet. Be honest about your paddling skills. Talk to an outfitter about canoeing basics, or take a paddling course before you hit the rivers. Don't hesitate to pull ashore and walk your canoe or kayak around an obstacle.
Follow Wes Johnson on Twitter: @WesJohnson
Arkansas woman dies in canoeing accident on Buffalo National River
June 13, 2016
An Arkansas woman died Sunday afternoon in a canoeing accident on the Buffalo National River, according to the National Park Service. Kristen Johnson of Conway drowned when the canoe she was in overturned, the agency said in a news release. She was seen going underwater, but she didn't resurface. The accident occurred near the Hasty access point in the Upper District of the river, the National Park Service said. Authorities from five different agencies responded, and Johnson's body was recovered later Sunday evening near where the canoe capsized. National Park Service spokesman Caven Clark said Johnson was between 25 and 30 years old.