Accident Database

Report ID# 4066

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

I, Matt Todhunter, had just moved to Chattanooga, TN two weeks prior to the accident, and was looking to check out some of the local creeks with a solid crew. The previous year I had been stepping up my game from a III-IV paddler to a IV-V paddler, successfully paddling runs like Cheoah, Tallulah, Green Narrows, and Richland Creek. At the time of the accident, I had been paddling whitewater for just over 3 years. Despite this, I was still the least experienced/ skilled paddler on the trip. Besides me, there was Shawn Malone, Ben Trister, Dooley Tombras, Matt DeVoe, and Chad Lewis, all in OC1's except for Chad, who was in a C1.

Due to the previous day's rainfall, I decided to burn a vacation day at work to go paddle something new. Shawn called in the morning and said a crew was coalescing to head to Little Possum Creek. Ben Trister had run the creek a few weeks prior, but I believe this was the rest of the group's first time down. We checked the visual gauge (painted on the RR bridge) on the way to the put-in and it read negative 3.5 inches. At the put-in, the tubes going under the road/bridge were about half to 2/3 full of water. We put on and everyone had good lines through the beginning rapids, and everyone ran Immodium Falls. Everyone walked Double Drop except for Chad. The next rapid is Holy Cross, a boof onto a long bumpy slide that has a kicker at the end. Most of us were going to walk it, but after seeing Chad run it, Shawn decided to run it, and made it look clean and easy. I decided to fire it up as well.

Before I ran it, Chad and Shawn were below, with Shawn filming on his iPhone and Chad setting safety. I entered the rapid from the right, boofing the the lip and dropping into the seam. I did not get my bow over the seam well enough and it typewritered my bow to the left. I decided to brace and ride it out, but the force of the water continued to push me left until my bow came out of the water and over a rock, which pitched the boat sharply to the right. I did not tuck and fell out of the outfitting of the boat and onto the slide.

Based on the video footage, my injuries, and the damage to my helmet, here is the way I believe I was injured: 1. I was pitched out of the boat to my right, with my right hand (still gripping the paddle) hitting the slide first. The momentum of my body moving downstream combined with the momentum of the direction I was ejected ultimately put me on my back on the slide, head first, with the boat on top of me. 2. My head, being the first part of my body downstream, was the first thing to contact the kicker shelf at the bottom of the slide. This kicker shelf stopped the motion of my body going down the creek, even if just momentarily. 3. The force of the water and the boat's downstream momentum continued to carry the boat down the slide. The gunwhale of my boat (upside down) contacted the left side of my face. With the right side of the back of my helmet stopped and in contact with the kicker shelf, the force from the boat crushed the left side of my face. I specifically remember getting too far left, flipping and being under water, hearing a loud crunch and feeling numbness in my face, and then being in the pool below and swimming to shore.

After getting to shore, my first thought was that I had knocked some teeth out. My nose was bleeding badly, I was tired, my face was numb, and my teeth hurt. Dooley, Matt, and Ben portaged and they came to assess my injuries. My helmet was cracked on the rear right side, and Matt DeVoe confirmed that I had not lost any teeth. At that point, the guys remained calm, downplayed my injuries to me to keep me calm, but conveyed that we needed to move quickly. Thankfully, the only large rapid left is Whiteout, which we all quickly portaged. Still, there was about 2.5 miles left to paddle after Holy Cross. The guys did a great job helping safely guide me down the rest of the run to the vehicle.

Shawn was able to call Dave DeHart using his cell phone once we were out of the gorge and in the valley, and Dave was waiting on me at the takeout to take me to Erlanger. The CT scan at the Erlanger revealed that I had broken my maxilla (upper jaw), zygomatic (cheek) and completely blown out the orbital floor on the left side of my face. Thankfully, I was not injured further, and I have no doubt my Plateau Helmet saved my life. A week of painkillers, 4 metal plates and a wire mesh, then 4 weeks of recovery and was back on the water. I now wear a full-face helmet any time I am creeking, and advocate full-face helmets to all paddlers.

Video of the accident is here: I have pictures of the post-surgery x-ray, as well as pictures of my face after the accident.

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