Accident Database

Report ID# 475

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  • Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • Failed Rescue

Accident Description

On February 18, 1998 a group of longtime paddling friends, Scott Albright, Philip Curry, Hugh Kelly and Pablo Perez, were kayaking on the Upper Rocky Broad river near Bat Cave, NC. The run is rated Class IV-V in Benner’s guide. Everyone in the group was an expert paddler; Philip, Scott and Hugh paddled the section frequently. Perez, 28, was a member of the U.S. Rodeo Team. With the water level running at 4.5 feet, a moderate flow, the group put on the upper section at about

4:00 p.m.

They comfortably ran the top portion of the run, including a well-known rapid called Flight Simulator. They scouted this beforehand to check for new logs.

Close to

5:00 p.m.

the group approached a short, previously unnamed rapid that others refer to as “Guido”. Pablo watched Scott’s run of the rapid while he listened to a verbal description from Philip. Then he entered the rapid. As Scott came off the bottom drop of the rapid, which is bordered on river left by an undercut rock parallel to the main flow, he did a stern squirt and felt his boat hit a submerged log. Scott eddied out to warn the other paddlers. As he turned upstream he saw Pablo placing his final stroke as he entered the rapid.

At the bottom of the drop, Pablo’s boat melted down, or disappeared, beneath the water, a not uncommon occurrence in this rapid. When Scott did not see Pablo emerge, he paddled immediately to shore, got out of his boat, and ran upstream with a throw rope. He saw Pablo’s paddle float downstream as he did so. From upstream, Philip watched Pablo paddle over the drop. After seeing Pablo disappear and watching the change in Scott’s demeanor, he got out of his boat and ran downstream.

When Scott arrived at the base of the drop he could not see Pablo or his boat at all. He threw his rope bag hard into the river where Pablo was last seen. When the rope hit, Scott saw Pablo’s hand reach out of the water. At this point Pablo had been under for about 15 seconds. Scott quickly recoiled the rope and threw it where he saw Pablo’s hand. When this attempt was unsuccessful, Scott dove into the river. His hands landed on Pablo’s body and he pulled hard twice before being washed downstream by the powerful current.

As Scott was making his rope throws, Hugh attached a rope to Philip’s rescue harness. Philip entered the water on a belay from Hugh. He made it to where Pablo was pinned and, with the help of Scott, managed to get a hold of him. Now, 45 seconds into the pin, they realized how solidly Pablo was trapped. Scott and Philip, stabilizing each other and anchored to Hugh on shore, tried to elevate Pablo’s unresponsive body so that they could hold his head above water. After two minutes of repeated hands-on rescue attempts it became clear that this would not work. Philip and Scott returned to shore, and Hugh suggested using a snag line.

Hugh swam to river right and caught a rope from Philip. Scott looped the middle of the rope around the only reachable part of Pablo, his left arm. In this way they managed to lift Pablo’s hand to the surface, although the rest of the body did not move and the rope soon slipped off. Continued attempts to get a line under Pablo’s torso were unsuccessful. The group could not reach any part of Pablo’s boat or his body, aside from his left arm.

Scott, Philip and Hugh continued rescue attempts for over an hour, including but not limited to: various types of snag lines to elevate the torso, an attempt to move the submerged log, and an attempt to move the body by using a stout branch as a lever. At approximately

6:30 p.m.

, the group decided that impending darkness and the lapse of time since Pablo’s submergence required that they send for additional help.

Local paddlers and rescue squads, including the Black Mountain Swift Water Rescue Team, arrived to help. At about

3:30 a.m.

on February 19, the body of Pablo Perez was removed from the Rocky Broad. More of Pablo’s friends arrived at dawn and spent the next day recovering his  boat.

Pablo was pinned at the base of a 5 foot drop. His boat and body was pinned sideways against a log, which was running diagonally across the river towards an undercut rock. He never pulled his skirt, possibly because the current had pushed his body at a 90-degree angle from the bow.

SOURCE:  Written by Bryan Jennings; additional information from Chris Bell and Tom Visnius

ANALYSIS: (Walbridge) Hidden logs in chutes are a constant danger on steep creeks. They can cause problems even in seemingly easy drops. A group making the run at lower water had seen the log that killed Pablo Perez, and there are rumors of a previous pin there. At the level Perez encountered, this strainer was very difficult to spot. Even scouting each drop, which is not always practical, might not have revealed this trap. Once a person is pinned, rescue may not be possible even for well-equipped teams of experts.

This sort of “objective danger”, common to mountaineering, is also present in high-end whitewater paddling. Chris Bell’s post to rec.boats.paddle said it best: “Fools pretend they are too good to avoid a similar fate. Although skill and judgement can reduce the risks we face to what I believe are acceptable levels, the sport we love will always contain an element of uncontrolled risk.”

 

The following is the account of the physical events surrounding Pablo Perez' death as experienced by Scott Albright, Philip Curry, and Hugh Kelly. Recorded on February 20th by Bryan Jennings. On Wednesday, February 18th, 1998 a group of longtime friends and paddling buddies, Scott Albright, Philip Curry, Hugh Kelly and Pablo Perez, went kayaking on the Upper Rocky Broad river near Bat Cave, North Carolina. Everyone in the group was an experienced paddler and Philip, Scott and Hugh paddled the section frequently. Although it had been overcast earlier in the day, the sun was out by the time the group arrived at the river. After finding the water level to be 4.45 (4.5 inches on the old gauge), the group put on the upper section at about 4:00 p.m. The group comfortably ran the top portion of the run, including a well-known rapid called Flight Simulator, which they scouted to check for new logs.

Close to 5:00 p.m. the group approached a short, previously unnamed rapid. Pablo watched Scott's run of the rapid while listening to a verbal description from Philip, then entered the rapid. As Scott came off the bottom drop of the rapid, which is bordered on river left by an undercut rock parallel to the main flow, he felt his boat's hull hit a submerged log. Scott eddied out to warn the other paddlers and turned upstream just in time to see Pablo placing his final stroke into the drop. At the bottom of the drop, Pablo's boat melted down, or disappeared, beneath the water, a not uncommon occurrence in this rapid. When Scott did not see Pablo emerge, he paddled immediately to shore, got out of his boat and ran upstream with a throw rope, noticing Pablo's paddle float downstream as he did so.

From upstream, Philip watched Pablo descend the rapid and disappear over the drop. After not seeing Pablo emerge and then seeing a change in Scott's demeanor, Philip pulled up on shore and got out of his boat and ran downstream as he conveyed to Hugh the seriousness of the moment. Scott arrived at the base of the drop and could not see Pablo or his boat at all. He threw his rope bag hard into the river where Pablo disappeared. When the rope hit Scott saw Pablo's hand reach out of the water. At this point Pablo had been under for about 15 seconds. Scott quickly recoiled the rope and threw it where he had last seen Pablo's hand. When this attempt was unsuccessful, Scott dove into the river for Pablo. Scott's hands landed on Pablo's body and he pulled twice before being washed downstream by the powerful current. As Scott was making the first rope throw attempts, Hugh and Philip attached a rope to Philip's rescue harness and he entered the water, on belay by Hugh. Philip made it to Pablo and, with the help of Scott managed to get a hold of him, at which point they both realized the depth and solidness of the pin. This was 45 seconds into the pin. Scott and Philip, stabilizing each other and anchored to Hugh on shore, then began attempting to elevate Pablo's unresponsive body so that they could get his head above water. After two minutes of repeated hands-on rescue attempts it became clear thatAbundant rain and warm winter temperatures lead to an increase in creek boating throughout the Southern Appalachians.

On February 18th Pablo Perez, an outstanding creeker and rodeo competitor, died on the Rocky Broad River (Highway 9 to Old Fort) near Asheville, NC. Water levels were moderate when the group put in at 4:00 in the afternoon. After running the more difficult upper section they arrived at "Guido", a ledge drop with an undercut rock on the left. This the last hard drop on the run. Unknown to the group there was a log jammed diagonally in the current. It was extremely difficult to spot. Another boater had pinned there a week earlier, escaping after a terrible struggle. The lead boater, paddling a rodeo boat, did a tail squirt and hit the log with his stern. He eddied out below and tried to warn the others.

Pablo, paddling a very high volume creek boat, was already committed to the run. His boat hit the log bow first, disappeared, and was apparently held in place by the log and the undercut. His three companions, all very strong paddlers, tried a variety of methods to bring Pablo's head above water including a snag line and a tethered wader in a rescue vest.

The accident occurred at 5:00; at 6:00 the group sent for outside help. The Black Mountain Swiftwater Rescue Team and dozens of local paddlers responded to what proved to be a very difficult rescue. Auxiliary lighting was brought in and Pablo's body was removed from his boat at 3:30 the following morning. Friends recovered his boat later that day. Logs in drops can be extremely dangerous and hard to spot. Since smaller creeks are being run regularly, paddlers need to find better ways of spotting these hazards.

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