COLLEGE STUDENT PINNED IN ROYAL GORGE
Arkansas River Near Canon City, Colorado: September 12, 1995
Gradient-46 fpm; Level-1400 cfs; Classification-IV
DESCRIPTION: Located in Eastern Colorado, the Royal Gorge is the last of the Arkansas River whitewater. Rated as a Class IV run, it was low on September 12th. Gardiner Carey, an experienced 23-year old Colorado University senior and former raft guide, was kayaking with a friend when he hit a large downed tree in a class II section of the run. This strainer, which is not hard to avoid, caught and folded his kayak. The deck collapsed, pinning his legs inside.
Carey's partner, an EMT trained in swiftwater rescue, struggled to save him for over 30 minutes, trying a number of different techniques. Despite this, the kayak continued to sink lower and lower in the water. When Carey released his sprayskirt the kayak filled with water and sank, forcing his head under. Finally the survivor realized that his friend had been under water too long and went for help. He ran to the highway and found a phone. Members of the Freemont County Sheriff's Department and the Canon City Fire Department along with Arkansas Headwaters river rangers arrived about thirty minutes later. They extracted Carey but could not revive him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
SOURCE: Colorado Daily via Stacy Dorian
ANALYSIS: This was clearly a desperate situation, and with only one rescuer the pair had few options.
Releasing the sprayskirt of a pinned boat is a rather perilous option. If both legs are free, kayakers using a keyhole cockpit and a tight-fitting sprayskirt can pull their legs off their thigh braces and out of the opening. When the sprayskirt is released they are in position to escape quickly. If the legs of a pinned kayaker are caught in the boat, the sprayskirt should be kept in place until the kayak can be released.
If the rear of the kayak is accessible, cutting the stern off with a small hand saw may unbalance the pin and release the boat. These can be bought from mail-order catalogues for under $15.00.
It is possible that the victim was not paying attention, an easy enough mistake for an expert who kayaked 150 days per year to make when running easy rapids. Or he might have been trying to cut between the branches of the downed tree, an exciting but dangerous option. All boaters should be alerted to the danger of making tight moves around strainers in strong current. Since no pillow is formed, almost any collision results in a pin.