Accident Database

Report ID# 460

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

On April 4, a party of 5 launched two canoes at highway 65 on Cauldron Creek in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. This class I-II stream was, in the words of news reports, a "flooded, log-jammed mess". One boat contained Kevin Adkins, who was not wearing a life vest, and his fiancee and son, who were. Adkins fell out of the boat and grabbed a tree. His son grabbed a tree branch to slow the canoe down and capsized it.

Mr. Adkins then left his tree to rescue the others. His son made it to shore safely; his fiancee swam to an island. Rescue squads were called; two boatloads of emergency responders capsized while attempting to help. While all this was going on, a second party of canoeists flipped and swam. Recovery operations continued until sunset, but eventually all but Mr. Adkins were accounted for. The next day a paddler put in at first light in the hopes of finding Adkins alive. He spotted the victim's body pinned against a tree 3/4 mile below the capsize point. He returned to shore , notified authorities, then with the help of his son, retrieved the body.


On April 5, 1997 party of five people in two canoes put in around


on at Pinnacle Springs Bridge on Cauldron Creek. This Class I-II stream located in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas was in the words of news reports, a "flooded, log-jammed mess". Three people were in the first canoe: 38-year-old Kevin Atkins, his fiancée, Paula Moore, and son Jared Atkins. Kevin Atkins was not wearing a life jacket.  

Approximately one mile downstream Kevin Atkins fell out of the canoe and grabbed a tree. His son Jared then grabbed a tree limb in an attempt to help his father and capsized the boat. Speculation is that Kevin then left the tree he was holding in an attempt to help his son or his fiancée. Jared made it to the bank and yelled for his father. He saw him briefly as he was being swept downstream. Moore swam to an island. Two unidentified canoeists went for help and called 911 from a nearby house.  

Sheriff’s deputies and fire-rescue personnel arrived. Four deputies launched in a flat bottom boat at the highway 65 bridge and motored upstream for ¾ of a mile before reaching Moore . They got her in the boat, then flipped as they were attempting to reach Jared Atkins who was already on shore. At least three people were left holding onto trees in the river. Rescue personnel noticed a gas tank float downstream and assumed that the first boat was in trouble. Three more rescuers launched in a second boat and motored upstream. Their propeller tangled in a throw rope and they flipped too!  

By this time other rescue personnel were arriving. While this was occurring, another party of canoeists saw that there was a rescue going on downstream and put in at Pinnacle Springs Bridge to help. A canoe carrying three people capsized in the first rapid. All three somehow stayed pretty close together as they were swept through the next drop. They were able to stop their downstream momentum by holding on to some trees on or near the bank. The second canoe pulled out downstream of the accident site. Realizing they could not help, the paddlers went for assistance.  

Clay Elliott put in upstream of Pinnacle Springs in his kayak. He paddled to the second party of victims, spoke with them, and determined that they were not in immediate danger. A small group of rescuers had arrived by vehicle or foot and began trying to reach the second party of victims while others were wrapping up the first accident scene downstream. However, they had still not found the initial victim, Kevin Atkins. Rescuers were encouraging the victims at the upstream site to swim from the trees they were grasping, but a local person spoke up and told them that was not a good idea. A number of unsuccessful attempts were made to reach them with throw ropes. Finally some type of rescue disc with a wire attached was thrown across the creek to Clay, who had ferried across. Ropes were attached and a zip line was set, however the angle of the line was directly across the current from one side of the bank to the other. Despite this, the rescuers were however able to pull three people to safety.  

By now the sun had set. The rescuers somehow convinced Clay that he needed to be rescued by the zip line instead of ferrying back across. He hooked himself up but somehow the rope that was pulling him across the current either broke or came untied leaving him stalled out in midstream. He struggled for some time in the current , but finally rescuers and local volunteers pulled him to safety.  

The search for Kevin Atkins was called off about

8:30 p.m.

The next morning Howard Elliot put on at first light in hopes of finding Kevin Atkins alive. He located his body pinned against a tree approximately ¾ of a mile downstream from the initial accident site. He alerted the local authorities that he had found the body. Clay and Howard Elliot then launched a canoe and retrieved his body.  

SOURCE: by Howard Elliot, owner of North Cadron Canoe Rental; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

ANALYSIS: (Walbridge) Neither the canoeists or the rescuers were not equipped or trained to handle the river effectively. The absence of a PFD probably caused Atkins death and explains why the other thirteen (!) swimmers survived. It took trained paddlers to get the job done.

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