Accident Database

Report ID# 41

  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Mike Culburtson, a very experienced creek boater, died on Suck Creek in southeast Tennessee on February 2, 1987. He and a friend had met for an afternoon run down this Class V roadside creek. At the start of the most difficult part of the run they encountered a straightforwad Class-III ledge about 4 feet high. His companion, who was leading, ran the right of the tongue. Mike ran left and disappeared under water. No plume or air pocket was formed. The bow of his boat apparently dove into a crevice, and the onrushing current pushed the stern to the bottom. The boat partly folded at the rear of the cockpit, and that plus the water pressure kept him from bailing out. 

His partner attempted to reach him, both swimming and with a throw line, several times without success. After fifteen minutes of strenuous effort he climbed to the road and, after trying to flag down several vehicles, ran to a nearby trailer and dialed 911. After asking the man living there to stand on the road to direct the rescue squad he ran back to the creek, paddled across the river, and continued his efforts. After much effort he managed to thread a rope through Mr. Culburtson's paddle jacket. With a strong pull from upstream he was able to dislodge the pin. The boat floated free and Mr. Culburtson fell out. His partner swam out, dragged him ashore, and began CPR. This was continued until rescue squads arrived.

Source: Ron Stewart, Mike's long-time friend and paddling companion.

ANALYSIS: (Stewart)

"...Mike and I often paddled river together...we knew each others abilities and style and worked well together as a team.  In retrospect, if others had been present  it would have increased the number of rescue options available. Since one person did eventually free the victim. with more people present the rescue could have been faster and morr efficient...Another factor is the psychological impact...I don't recall panic, but I can't help but believe that I experienced some kind of shock and, ultimately, exhaustion...Other people being present, so long as they remained rational, would certainly have had a positive influence...and one person could have gone for help while others continued the rescue."

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