Brian Reynolds, 23, Santa Fe, NM, drowned near mile marker 24 while kayaking on the South Fork of the Payette, a popular Class IV run in Southern Idaho. On June 4, 1997 the river was running at 6500 cfs, which is huge water for the run.
The incident occurred at Walt’s Drop, where whitewater pioneer Walt Blackadar drowned in 1978. Reynolds flipped and was washed into a big hole. He was wearing a dry top (not a drysuit) with two layers of polartec 200 fleece underneath. The neck gasket had blown out, and been repaired with duct tape. When he hit the hole he blew out his duct tape repair. He rolled up, then went over again immediately. Subsequent roll attempts brought him to the surface, but he couldn’t get up because of his flooded top. He wet exited and tried to swim to shore, but he was sucked underwater repeatedly, and for extended periods of time. At one point he was able to get help from another kayaker, but he couldn’t hang on. When he finally resurfaced he was pushed to shore by his companions. CPR was attempted for about 45 minutes.
SOURCE: Vince Thompson, Vince’s Idaho Whitewater Page; Molly McFadden, posting to rec.boats.paddle
ANALYSIS: (Walbridge) While a flooded drysuit or drytop won’t “weigh you down”, it does increase your mass. This amplifies the action of the current and makes self-rescue very difficult. This is not the first such incident (See the Jeff Alexander fatality on the Illinois River in 1998), and boaters are strongly advised not to rely on drysuit gaskets that have been patched with duct tape.
In Idaho north of Boise, Brian Reynolds, 23, of Santa Fe, NM drowned on the South Fork of the Payette. Flow was 5500 at Lowman, a medium-high level. The accident, which occurred just downstream of Big Falls on the Canyon Section. The victim's drysuit neck gasket, temporarily repaired with tape, blew out. This, combined with the high water, made a timely rescue impossible.