Accident Database

Report ID# 418

  • Swim into Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

The Forks of the Kern run is a popular Class IV-V run in California’s Southern Sierra. It has several Class V drops, including Carson Falls. River flow on July 14, 1996 was a moderate 1200 cfs. Melissa Toben, 45, an experienced and active rafter, was running with four people. They were paddling tandem in Aire Pumas. They had a great day, running many other Class V’s cleanly, until arriving at Carson Falls. Both boats elected to run the far left sneak. Toben's boat tipped sharply, dumping both paddlers into the river. The stern paddler swam clear, but Toben disappeared into the hole for about ten minutes before reappearing face down. CPR began at once, and was continued until the Life Flight helicopter arrived 20 minutes later. She was pronounced dead soon afterwards.

SOURCE: Mary Petrovsky, Friends of the River; Tim Delaney, San Francisco Chronicle;  San Francisco Examiner; Keith Beck, Rocky Contos, and Bill Tuthill, posting to

ANALYSIS: (Walbridge) No one could have predicted this accident. Dr. Keith Beck, an active Southern California boater, reported the presence of "a mean rock downstream of the hole" that he spotted during a low-water hiking trip. Posting to he said, "My guess is that if a person bounced into the crease in the chute, between the tongue and the downstream rock, it might get weird and deep. There may also be a bottom strainer effect." Bill Tuthill added, "The most immediate lesson is that the far left chute of Carson Falls is not a viable sneak route, especially at 1000-1200 cfs."


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