Accident Database

Report ID# 479

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • Other

Accident Description


On November 3, on the Lower Pacuare river in Costa Rica, there was a kayaking "near miss", that could have easily been a fatality. We wish to provide information about the incident, so that we all can consider what went wrong and what went right. With such information, hopefully, we can maximize the "happy endings" in the future. The trip included two guests to Costa Rica, a man in his early 30s and a woman in her mid-20s. Escorting and leading the two guests were two experienced kayakers, one, an Olympic kayaker from Costa Rica, and the second, an EMT from the US who was in Costa Rica for his second year as a guide and trip leader.

It was the 3rd day of the vacation for the guests; the previous two days had been spent paddling somewhat easier, lower water, technical rivers. The guests and the leaders were ready to progress to the Class III with IV drops Lower Pacuare; the guests requesting this river which they understood was more like the rivers in their country. The trip started with hole play near the putin, with all showing skill and comfort. Each of the guests was paired with one of the guides, so there was one-on-one support. The trip progressed, with the guides spending time with the guests before the major rapids, explaining the lines, the consequences of being off line, and then the guide would lead the way, with the guest following close behind the leader.

One of the guests was not attentive to following the lines for two of the rapids, and the guide twice reviewed the need for attention to following the designated routes. After this review, all was well for 2 miles, when the group approached a Class IV drop with the center of the rapid containing holes and a pourover. All pulled into eddies and discussed the route (the right), the consequences (holes, pourovers), and the plan to have the experienced guide lead. The lead group took off, and toward the middle of the rapid, the guide saw that the guest was in the center of the river, not following his line. He saw her flip in a hole, then a few seconds later boof the pourover upside down, hitting the rock hard, and continuing down below the pourover.

The guide paddled over to assist, and upon attempting to right the boat, found the guest unconscious, with bleeding from under the helmet. The guide ejected from his boat, popped the guest's sprayskirt and pulled the guest from the boat. Holding her head above water, swam to the left shore.

As the swim was taking place, the second guide arrived at the scene, and attempted assistance by offering his stern to the rescuer and guest. The turbulence and difficulty was such that the grip was not held, so the 2nd guide beached his boat and jumped out to assist, and the rescuer pulled in 15 meters below, and they together brought the unconscious and non-breathing guest onto shore. The 2nd guide, an EMT, opened the airway, resulting in ejection of frothy saliva, and a slow return to breathing. A raft was close behind, and was waved over. The injured and the EMT continued down in the raft, and the raft's safety boater continued ahead to call an ambulance.

At the takeout, the injured was taken to a local emergency facility, then taken to a larger hospital for overnight observation. After x-rays came out negative, the injured was released. Two days after the accident, the injured was again paddling Class II/III whitewater. The good news is that a fatality did not occur, due to the presence of highly skilled rescue personnel on the river, who did everything right. The learning is that those not familiar with a potentially hazardous condition should have the best possible leaders and should use the skilled leader's guidance to the extent practical and possible. We can never be assured that an accident will not occur, even with the best leadership, knowledge, and skills, and we boaters have to take responsibility for our own safety.

Submitted by members of the rescue team:


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