ATTENTION: Any tow tether on a rescue PFD that does not stow slack-free should not be worn for general paddling because of the snag risk!
From Jeff Calhoun via Facebook: Please Do NOT wear tow tethers that aren’t 100% detachable from your PFD. Even with a quick release, a tow tether is vulnerable to dangerous snags in Wood infested whitewater. There was a fatality due to a tow line snagging on a strainer in class 2-3 yesterday. Sorry in advance for the Monday morning Quarterbacking but I tell people about this all the time, and yet it’s still a widespread practice among intermediate boaters to wear and use a tow tether on whatever river to rescue your friends boats when they swim. Even if you are experienced in using a tether I think It is unnecessarily risky to wear one on a creek with strainers. The risk in that environment far outweighs the benefits. I prefer to have a sling underneath my skirt (definitely NOT wrapped around on top of the skirt), or in a PFD pocket because we usually have to get out of my boats to retrieve a swamped boat. Personally I almost never wear one except the rare instances teaching beginners on the safe and strainer free Potomac. I see a lot of people wearing them loose, flopping around, with the carabiner clipped to themselves or the PFD, rather than clipping back to the quick release harness. Please folks learn from this tragedy and check yourself, check your friends.
Date: 2019-02-24; Victim: Nancy Kell; Reports by: Ken Durr and Bill Durr
River: Red Creek; Location: about three miles west of Laneville, WV
Water level: Medium-High (AW reported 465 CFS – Green level)
Difficulty: II+ (at that point in the river)
Report by Ken Durr:
A group of seven boaters set out to run Red Creek from Laneville to the Dry Fork of the Cheat. Air temperature was approximately high 50s, but getting colder. Winds were becoming gusty making communication difficult. All were experienced boaters. All had taken swift water rescue classes. About three miles into the run, in relatively flat water, we took a left hand turn around an island and approached a spot with a pile of wood, mostly branches, extending 4-5 feet from river left. To the right of this strainer was a clear channel approximately 10-15 feet wide, and then another strainer extending 10-15 feet to the island. Bill Durr, leading, eddied out river left about 15 feet above the channel and then ran it. I eddied out at the same place facing downstream. Nancy then eddied out ahead of me, facing upstream, just upstream from a log protruding a few feet from the bank at head or shoulder height. I warned her not to drift into it, but she hit it, flipped, and I saw the boat run through the channel upside down. It did not stop or slow at any point; there was no attempt to roll, and no apparent swim. The next boater down, Josh Barza, asked me what to do, I said to follow the boat, thinking odds were she was still in it and possibly incapacitated. Other boaters followed him.
The boat was soon out of sight and I could not know what the pursuers had found, but thinking that it was also possible that she had no longer been in the boat, I took out river left and began scouting the river on foot, starting at the strainer and walking down, scanning the river in approximately the area that the boat went, but also looking along the far shore, thinking that she might have ejected without us noticing. As I scouted down the shore I met Bill Durr coming up. He asked where Nancy was. I said she must be downstream because I could not see her here. I went back up river scanning the same area again. Elapsed time at this point was probably 4-5 minutes.
I then saw Nancy’s PFD and helmet 2 or 3 inches under water at the spot where the channel began, just beside the river left strainer. She had not previously been visible to me there—other boaters had also gone by without seeing anything. I began blowing my whistle and did not stop. I jumped on and into the upstream side of the river left strainer and was secure in it, up to my waist in water. I pulled Nancy up, facing downstream, and held her head out of the water. After 30 or 40 seconds, because she was non-responsive, it was very difficult to keep her head up, and there were no other boaters around, I sought an alternative. I checked around her body with one hand and felt a taught strap (I later learned that this was an elastic cow tail tow tether) directly below her, extending from her PFD to, I believe, a branch protruding from the strainer about a foot down. I took Nancy’s knife from her PFD and cut the strap. She immediately floated feet first, head up, downstream.
I was stuck in the strainer for one or two minutes but eventually got free by shifting my weight. I got back in my boat and headed downstream looking for Nancy. About an eighth of a mile down, I found Josh and Bill administering CPR to Nancy on a gravel bar. Josh and Bill began CPR at around 1:10. I got out and helped them carry her to an island. Josh knew CPR and continued performing it, with Bill and me helping him. We also administered rescue breaths at Josh’s direction. After about five minutes Charlie Duffy arrived and instructed me to go for help. I boated about a quarter mile downstream and found a farm house on river right—the occupants called 911 and I led one of them upstream to the site.
Two others in the party had pursued the boat towards river right, initially believing Nancy would be close by. They eventually grounded the boat a substantial distance downstream.
At about 1:50 Bill, Charlie, and Josh had stopped performing CPR. Josh then also went for help. Bill, Charlie, and I began setting up ropes to cross the approximately 40 foot channel between the island where Nancy was and the river right shore where medical personnel were arriving. I crossed to the island, and Bill and I helped Charlie carry Nancy to a line that angled downstream to shore, Charlie clipped her in and walked her to shore. Paramedics then evacuated her.
Report by Bill Durr:
Put in at 12:15 on Red Creek with a group of experienced boaters and day was going well. Eventually our group came to gravel bar that forms a rapid with a channel on the left with lots of wood (38.975187,-79.458631). The wood blocks most of the channel and the river constricts. At the top of the rapid there is a small eddy river right that you can catch and walk the rapid or set up to run the narrow channel far river left. Above the river left channel is an eddy that has a large strainer in it with a decent amount of space behind to catch and run the channel. I went first and ferried to behind the strainer and continued down the far left channel. Caught an eddy river left, immediately below the last part of the channel. From this eddy I could not see all the way to the top.
The group started to come down the channel. I saw Ken catch an eddy about half way down and heard whistle blasts. I saw Nancy's boat floating down the rapid upside down with no movement. Got out of my boat and proceeded up the river left bank. When I got to Ken I quickly looked, but didn't see anything in the channel and heard that no one had seen Nancy come out of her boat. So I got in my boat and proceeded to try to catch up to her boat.
Came to the next rapid where the river splits around an island and took the left channel (38.975591,-79.46172). At the bottom of it I saw Josh and he was blowing his whistle. Got out on the island and went to him. Josh said that he was chasing Nancy's boat and it and the other paddlers in or group went down the right channel. We went up to try to look down the right channel. Got to a spot where we thought we saw the right channel and did not see any boaters or boat. I started back to my boat to proceed downstream, this is when Josh started blowing his whistle (about 8 minutes after leaving to chase the boat). He was heading upstream and into the water. Nancy had been floating down and he got her to a gravel bar next to the island. She was unresponsive and we started CPR and rescue breaths. Ken arrived after about 3-5 minutes and we paused to get Nancy fully out of the water and brought her over to the island. Continued to administer CPR and breaths. Charlie arrived and Ken went to get help. Continued CPR 40 minutes total but Nancy never became responsive or regained a pulse.
Things that were helpful:
· Two members of the party involved in the rescue/recovery knew CPR. Josh Barza is WFR certified.
· Very experienced paddling crew.
· Strong teamwork.
· Good group gear, especially long ropes.
· Fast response time from the Tucker County Police & EMS Teams.
· Great assistance from the local landowner.
What could have potentially been done differently?
· We should have had one person in the party stay with Ken.
· We could have considered that because Nancy floated out of the eddy she likely hit the channel at the far left and that that was the place she was most likely to have snagged, and so could have looked harder there earlier.
· Eddy top of the rapid, river right and portage the rapid. There was a very easy portage through a grass field.
· Stop/Gather/Discuss before running a rapid with a strainer at the bottom.
· Ken could have used a rope to self-belay/wade to Nancy. The rope could then be used to secure Nancy via a carabiner to prevent floating downstream.
Finally: This incident suggests reconsideration of the widespread use of tow tethers.
I use the same system as you, works quite well - has a very small exposure from the ring to the pocket.
An alternative retrofit I may experiment with is as follows:
Store the standard tow strap completely in the front pocket - out of harms way.
Sew a short 1' (or shorter) strap to a ring (goes on the WRT Belt) and a flat small loop on the end of the thin strap (Spectra - like Astral or climbing webbing). The other end is simply velcro-ed to the PFD on the side where it's easy to grab.
When needed to tow, pull from packet, clip to the strap, and clip the other end to the boat to be towed.
This seems really fail safe, nothing to grab and Velcro disengages with very little force.
I'd also stress very bright clothing - no Black or dark Red. That would have helped Ken immensely in seeing she was trapped and not still in her boat. The greatly reduced exposure time "might" have enabled rescue in time for CPR to actually work.
FromKevin Coburn: I use the astral system that is all contained tightly in a pocket and on a quick release. This seems like the ideal system.
Question, had she recognized the tether was caught and pulled her quick release, wouldn't the non-biner end of the tow tether pulled free and released her from the log? It seems like as long as one end is on a quick release, the other end could (though not ideally) be a non-releasable biner.
From Evan Stafford: Definitely an important safety lesson that seems like a tiny thing until you're snagged on your tow tether. I've had issues with those things for a long time and watched a friend have a near miss from a separate issue with them, which is clipping into a boat trying to recover it in serious whitewater. He couldn't get to shore in a high water class IV+ section and by the time he tried to pull his release and realized the boat floating next to him wasn't going to provide any tension for him to release it, it was too late and he was entering the lead-in to a long class V+ rapid. He swam into a very sticky river wide hole with the boat still attached to his tether, even though he'd pulled the release almost a minute before. When he went deep on about his third or fourth recirculation he finally pulled free from the boat as it remained in the hole and he continued down swimming a 1/4 mile of extremely gnarly whitewater. I had a rope to him about 1/3 of the way down the rapid but as he grabbed it the violence of the scenario twisted him around and it wrapped around his neck so he let go and continued to swim to the bottom of the rapid. He managed to pull himself to shore before we caught up to him at the bottom of the rapid and he survived with only a bruised body and ego. I haven't worn a tow tether since.
It frustrates me that they are sold as "serious" rescue equipment when they are really best used for rescuing gear in class II whitewater or below. I've never needed to use mine in a time sensitive situation where I couldn't have just pulled it out of my pocket to ferry a boat across a river or as an attachment point to myself. Seems like Nancy was a strong community member and her loss will be felt for a long time. I will do the rounds with your article here so that hopefully we can reach many people with your message about the dangers of tow tethers and how to use them properly.
ACA SWR Committee Response: Feb 2019
We as a committee would first say that our deep sympathies are with the surviving family and friends of Nancy Kell. Our practice of evaluation in hindsight is not done with a desire to cast stones but instead to inquire, reflect, and learn so as to prevent future incidents from occurring. To prevent unnecessary knee jerk admonishment of useful equipment, we need to come together to warn and inform the pros and cons of wearing a tether. Every rescue tool inherently increases complexity and risk and although have dangers to their use, each can bring a swiftness to rescue we would not have otherwise.
Let us then think to ourselves how we can shape a new paradigm where we first create a personal and group system of rescue, and we communicate these systems effectively within our group, putting emphasis on how to prevent accidents from occurring.
Second, we must remain open to changing our systems based on environment, complexity, and group. And, finally, we will strive to train with those systems as frequently as possible in a variety of environments to find weaknesses that can be mitigated.
Things that the ACA S&R Committee would like to emphasize with rescue tether use after the accident involving Nancy Kell where she became entrapped in her tow tether underwater in a strainer all or none of which could have potentially led to the demise of the party:
1. Ensure that the rescue tether is releasable from both ends if the Quick Release Harness Belt is deployed i.e. do not attach to hard points (nonreleasable). a. Understand that methods of threading the belt through triglide buckle that increase friction could inhibit the release of the rescue tether b. Understand that a carabiner attachment loop for tether on PFD’s differ in location and have limitations in ease of release based on angle of force.
2. Although many manufacturers sell tethers with nonlocking carabiners, community standard is pushing towards widespread agreement that they should be used with locking carabiners to prevent unexpected clipping to hard points (nonreleasable). Study the strengths and weaknesses of each kind of locking carabiner before introducing into your system.
3. Ensure that Quick Release Harness Belt does not have excessive tail (exceeding 36”), has no twisting the entire length to buckle, and belt is in good condition to prevent jamming in triglide and the plastic fastex buckle.
4. Stress that sea kayaking tow systems are not a safe alternative to a Type V Rescue PFD and are inappropriate rescue tethers in river environments. Realize that complacency with your system can often be mistaken for comfort with your system. It is good practice to avoid dogma with systems in a river environment as there are too many variables that can contribute to a river accident.
Every group, no matter what the outing is should have a means of briefing their group on safety for the day. It does not need to be a belabored process but instead identify the right mindset for the day. Utilizing the CREW talk below can be a quick and effective way of establishing protocol for the day: C Communication (point positive, whistles, hand, where we might scout and discuss more) R River (character, levels, exposure, hazards, access) E Equipment (special equipment needed for section of river or exclusions) W What if (identify greatest threat to safety for the day, access, ICS)
Woman dies in Tucker County kayaking accident
The Tucker County Inter Mountain Feb 28, 2019
By DAN GEOHAGAN, Staff Writer
DRY FORK– A Maryland woman died while kayaking in Tucker County this week, officials said. A kayaking incident on Sunday resulted in the death of Nancy Kell, 56, of Hagerstown, Maryland, the Division of Natural Resources confirmed in a press statement.
Preliminary reports state that while on Red Creek, near Dryfork in Tucker County, her kayak struck a partially submerged tree, overturning her into the water. Her body was recovered downstream.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Police are in charge of the investigation. Many friends of Kell’s have reacted on social media to her passing.
On the Mason Dixon Canoe Cruisers Facebook page, Charlie Walbridge posted an accident report written by Ken Durr and Bill Durr, who were on the kayaking outing with Kell.
Ken Durr wrote, “A group of seven boaters set out to run Red Creek from Laneville to the Dry Fork of the Cheat. Air temperature was approximately high 50s, but getting colder. Winds were becoming gusty making communication difficult. All were experienced boaters. All had taken swift water rescue classes.
“About three miles into the run, in relatively flat water, we took a left hand turn around an island and approached a spot with a pile of wood, mostly branches, extending 4-5 feet from river left… Nancy then eddied out ahead of me, facing upstream, just upstream from a log protruding a few feet from the bank at head or shoulder height. I warned her not to drift into it, but she hit it, flipped, and I saw the boat run through the channel upside down. It did not stop or slow at any point; there was no attempt to roll, and no apparent swim… The boat was soon out of sight.”
The report states that Ken Durr continued downstream for about five minutes and then saw Kell’s helmet underwater. He lifted her body out of the water and cut free a strap which was caught on a branch of the submerged tree. When she was removed from the stream Bill Durr and another man performed CPR for 40 minutes but to no avail, the report reads.
Sheila Chapelle posted on Facebook, “Such a tremendous loss, my good friend and paddling companion, Nancy Kell, passed while paddling lower Red Creek yesterday — caught in a strainer. Her companions did all they could… Nancy was a kingpin in our local and distant paddling community — connecting paddlers with each other — encouraging people to get on the river. Always having a great day no matter what the conditions. She was also was a school guidance counselor and touched innumerable students.”
Andrew Rabinowitz posted on the Mason Dixon Canoe Cruisers Facebook page that “Nancy was my teacher, mentor, and most importantly a very dear friend who I was ever so privileged to spend countless hours with on the river. She was a beautiful example of how live a kind, generous, adventurous and fulfilling life… My heart is broken and my thoughts go out to her family, friends, all that were involved with her rescue, and our entire paddling community.”