Accident Database

Report ID# 466

  • Vertical Pin
  • Does not Apply
  • Inadequate Equipment
  • Solo Paddling

Accident Description

On December 22, 1997 Jonathan Harris, 26, was running Northern Alabama ’s Lower Little River Canyon (the Chairlift Section) at very low water. He had been paddling for 1½ years and was boating alone, without a sprayskirt. Two of his students followed along the bank to take pictures, but carried no rescue gear.  

At Eddy Hop Rapid (Class III) Harris missed his line on a 2 foot high side chute and pinned vertically on an undercut rock. He flipped, and was held under water. His friends tried for 30 minutes to save him but were unsuccessful. They sent for help. Rescue teams worked late into the night to haul his body over 1000 feet of nearly vertical slopes.  

SOURCE: NPS Morning Report, Renee Clark, and Billy Johnson. 


1. (Walbridge) Although Harris was not technically alone, it should be noted that it would be better for him to be accompanied by other paddlers. They might have had the skills to rescue him.

 2. ( Clark ) Even at low levels,  rivers the like Little River should not be run by kayakers without a sprayskirt. It is possible that he took on water above the drop, resulting in a loss of boat control which caused the pin. In addition, water in the boat almost certainly complicated rescue attempts.


Subject: NPS kayak fatality report

Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 09:35:16 -0500

From: (Aida Parkinson)

To: CC:,

To Lee Belknap and Charlie Walbridge:

The following appeared in the National Park Service's Morning Ranger Report for Wednesday, December 24, 1997. The first numbers are the NPS' incident number for calendar year 1997. The bracketed name is the Chief Ranger (CR) at Little River Canyon (LIRI) in Alambama; their number is (205) 845-9605, fax (205) 997-9129. 97-761 - Little River Canyon NRA (AL) -

Kayaking Fatality Jonathan Harris, 26, of Hokes Bluff, Alabama, was negotiating a narrow chute over a two-foot-high fall on the Little River on December 22nd when the front of his kayak became lodged under some rocks and the back of the kayak became submerged under the falls. Due to the strength of the river and the narrowness of the chute, he was unable to right himself or get out of the kayak. Two friends who were photographing him from rocks in the river tried to free Harris from the kayak for over 30 minutes but were unsuccessful. After exhausting all efforts to free him, they hiked out to seek assistance. Rescue teams worked approximately five hours into the night to free Harris and haul him over a thousand feet up 75 to 85 degree slopes to the rim of the canyon. Over 40 people were involved in the incident, including NPS and state rangers and local fire and rescue teams.

[Dwight Dixon, CR, LIRI, 12/23]

More information is now available on the December 22, 1997 drowning of Jonathan Harris on the Little River Canyon in Alabama. According to an AW member who talked with rangers. Harris was apparently boating alone and not using a sprayskirt on his kayak. The accident occurred on the Chairlift Section at very low flows. Friends had accompanied him along the bank to take pictures but they had no rescue gear. After he pinned on an undercut rock at Eddy Hop; his friends tried for 30 minutes to save him but were unsuccessful.

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