Accident Database

Report ID# 46

  • Equipment Trap
  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • Failed Rescue

Accident Description

On August 17, 1987 a party of five boats from the Knick Canoers and Kayakers took a run down the Class III section of the lower Eagle river. The trip had been going well when a father/son team in an open canoe broached on "Canoe Rock", a large midstream boulder downstream of Railroad Rapids that often caused trouble in the past. The boat, a Blue Hole OCA, turned its gunwales upstream and wrapped until both ends touched behind the rock. The son, paddling stern, exited safely. The father, a very fit 67 year-old with limited whitewater experience, was trapped under the seat by the heel. He had to be physically supported to keep his head out of water.

The group tried many different ways to help their friend. They swam out to the rock and attempted to lift the canoe. They brought logs out to be used as levers. They cut through the ABS with river knives and attached ropes to the gunwales through the holes. Nothing worked.

They sent for help. Firefighters from Fort Richardson arrived. They grabbed the rope attached to the canoe and tried to pull it free. The boat shifted in the current, pulling the trapped man's head from his son's grasp and shoving it under water. He was held there until Anchorage Dive Rescue arrived and pulled the canoe free, but by the nit was too late.

Source: A detailed report fromSteve Robinson of Anchorage, Alaska, whose wife was on the trip.Analysis:

1) The equipment used by the tandem pair had serious shortcomings. The canoe had a full spray cover and thigh straps but no float bags. The cover and straps made an exit more difficult; the lack of air bags made the pin more severe. In addition, neither paddler wore a wetsuit or drysuit and this almost certainly reduced their ability to deal with the icy water.

2) Thec initial rescue attempt stabilized the victim, which was good. The attempt to pull the canoe free without a strategy for continuing this support was bad. Even if the canoe had come free, the victim would have been trapped.

3) Rescue Squads carry a variety of cutting tools. The simplest rescue procedure would have been to cut the thwart that was holding the victim captive, or to cut the entire canoe in half.


This death resulted from the faulty equipment used by the paddlers and the poorly executed rescue by the responding firefighters.  The paddlers were very competent, but considering the firefighter's lack of expertise (one firefighter swam out to the rock with a rope tied around his waist!) it's lucky no one else was hurt.  It is unfortunate that the dive team, which had considerable swiftwater rescue ability, did not arrive until the victim's head had been pushed under water.

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