Preface: The Moose was running at 2.8 feet on a Sunday of Moosefest weekend in mid-October. It was unseasonably warm, air temperature in the 60s and partly cloudy, with water temperature probably in the 50s. Our group of eight scouted Knife’s Edge at around 2:30pm. All members were familiar with each others paddling skill having ran multiple sections of the Moose River at low and high river flows in the subsequent years, in addition to other rivers. All members had ran the Bottom Moose before with many having at least 10 runs.
The first six of us ran the drop and were waiting downstream in the eddy on river right. The seventh remaining boater was on river right shore above the feature with a throw bag for safety. Summary: Around 2:45 pm our eighth and final boater was attempting the s-turn line through the drop but launched off the knife’s edge late (too far river right of the intended line) and became pinned on the large rock in the middle of the rapid. Their boat was completely under water, facing upstream with the bow submerged in the undercut of the large rock. The pinned boater’s upper body was above water. They could pivot and use their arms to push against the large rock with their back to the flow in order to keep their head above water. They were unable to push themselves on top of the rock any further.
Within 60 seconds (approximately 2:46 pm), one member of our group (Member 1) was able to climb onto the large rock and could reach down to the pinned boater. Member 1 tried to pull the pinned boater up but was unsuccessful. Member 1 pulled two carabiners and slings from their PFD. One biner was clipped to the pinned boater’s PFD with a sling attached to a throw rope. The other sling was girth hitched around one of the pinned kayak’s grab loops, attached to a biner and then to another throw rope. Both throw ropes were held by other members of our group on shore on river right, just downstream of the drop. Communication was difficult due to the noise of the water, and the group had to rely on shouting individual words and hand signals to communicate between the group members on shore and those on the large rock.
Member 1 requested two more members of the group (Members 2 and 3) to swim out to the large rock and climb up to join and assist Member 1 in holding the pinned boater’s head above water. Those three tried together to pull the pinned boater up on the rock but were unable to move the pinned boater. Two other members of our group tried pulling from downstream on the throw rope that was attached to the pinned boater. At some point during these early attempts, the pinned boat and boater shifted and sunk several inches deeper into the undercut, but the pinned boater’s head was still above water and their position seemed to be stable.
The pinned boater’s spray skirt imploded (though the boat was probably already mostly filled with water). However, the neoprene spray skirt remained caught/wedged between the rock and boat limiting movement and self rescue from the pinned boater. The pinned boater verbalized wanting to cut the spray skirt with a rescue knife but was prevented from doing so by Member 2. Member 2 proceeded to pull and pry the spray skirt to dislodge it from being caught/wedged between the undercut rock and boat bow. Once the the sprayskirt was dislodged, Member 2 instructed pinned boater to attempt to step out of the boat by stepping on the boat’s plastic center safety pillar. Pinned boater was unable to do so due the nature of the pin. Shortly thereafter pinned boater began losing feeling in their lower extremities due to suspected pinching of the femoral arteries caused by the boat/body pin.
At about 2:55pm, one member of the group was sent downstream to get help (Member 4). The group tried to come up with some other options but ultimately decided to wait for additional support to arrive before making any more adjustments as long as the pinned boater was stable and alert. At some point, a throw rope was strung across the river that could have been used to stabilize the pinned boater in case group Members 1, 2, and 3 became exhausted, but it was never used. At around 3:15pm, the first help arrived (Rescuer 1)--this person was a passenger in the first car that was flagged down by group Member 4. Rescuer 1 informed the group that the the authorities had been alerted by Member 4, and that they’d heard sirens on their way to Knife’s Edge. Meanwhile, Rescuer 1’s friend (the driver of the car which was flagged down) found a group of experienced kayakers at the takeout who were packing up to head home; upon learning of the ongoing incident, they immediately grabbed their safety equipment and headed toward Knife’s Edge. Member 4 waited on the nearest access road by Knife’s Edge to direct first responders and experienced kayakers to the incident site.
Around 3:20 pm, a few representatives from the local fire department arrived, and by approximately 3:35 pm, a NYS Forest Ranger, members of local fire, police, and EMS, as well as many more experienced kayakers had arrived on scene. The Ranger directed the rescue from this point forward. A rope was fastened around the pinned boater’s torso (underneath their armpits) with a biner, and the rescuers tried to pull the pinned boater up the slope perpendicular to the river. This greatly restricted the pinned boater’s breathing and otherwise was difficult since they were pulling the pinned boater directly against the flow. The rope was repositioned downstream, and one of the experienced boaters coordinated the new approach with the Ranger. Two teams of about five rescuers were lined up downstream on river right to pull on two throw ropes (one that was fastened around the pinned boater’s torso, and another that was connected to the pinned boat’s grab loop). The rope-pulling teams pulled together on the count of three, and the pinned boater was successfully yanked from the pin after just two good tugs.
The formerly pinned boater floated downstream and was retrieved by live-bait rescuers. At 3:45 pm the rescued boater was pulled onto shore after approximately one hour in the water. The rescued boater was met by EMS and carefully assessed. They were responsive but hypothermic. The rescue team brought a basket litter, placed the rescued boater in the litter and used blankets and other materials to insulate the rescued boater. The rescued boater was transported in the litter basket from riverbank to road (0.25 miles) where they were placed in the ambulance. One member of the original group accompanied the rescued boater to a local hospital in the ambulance.
A day after being treated for moderate hypothermia and traumatic rhabdomyolysis, the rescued boater is in good condition with general, overall body soreness. The pinned boat was removed approximately 5 minutes after the pinned boater was yanked from the boat. Two ropes were affixed to the pinned boat’s security bar/handle. One affixed rope was pulled by at least two individuals on the downstream, river left bank. The other affixed rope was pulled by multiple individuals positioned downstream on river right bank. All pinned paddling gear was removed from the Knife’s Edge rapid.
The rescuers on shore stayed organized under the direction of the NYS Forest Ranger, and the Ranger successfully utilized the abilities and recommendations of the various rescuers on shore (experienced kayakers on/in the river, fire/police/ems on shore managing ropes and preparing supplies to evacuate the pinned boater, etc.). The rescued boater and group members are all deeply grateful to everyone who responded. Many, many hands on and off the river contributed to the success of the rescue.
Conclusions: key factors that contributed to the successful rescue are outlined below. Group Preparation Having so many people in the original paddling group (8) allowed group members to quickly and simultaneously execute various tasks Group members carried pin kits in their PFDs so this gear was readily available The pinned boater’s drysuit helped reduce the severity of hypothermia. As whitewater boaters often say, “dress for the swim” Rapid Response Group members quickly stabilized the pinned boater’s head and torso to prevent submergence or flush drowning
Sending for help EARLY in the rescue effort Quick arrival of local first responders and additional highly experienced whitewater kayakers. These folks arrived with the right equipment to assist in the rescue Leadership and Attitude Maintaining leadership structure throughout the rescue to provide for efficient communication and action
Exceptional coordination and collaboration of local first responders with whitewater kayakers. Group members and responders filled roles best suited to their abilities (quickly securing the pinned boater, sending for help, managing ropes, managing a large group in an emergency situation) Encouragement to pinned boater from members throughout the duration of the incident. Pinned boater has expressed that this was mentally & emotionally critical during the hour long rescue
Acknowledgements: All eight members of the of paddling group contributed to this report
TEXT ATTACHMENTS https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RBAA4gggJX9y8R4-Yh3mU7U6W5zKuXLB6zFxod-UWgQ/edit?usp=sharing https://www.dropbox.com/s/37mp9brwss2y9g9/KnifesEdge10162016IncidentReport.pdf?dl=0