Sunday, May 24th, I held one end of a tag-line in a rescue effort at Big Nasty on the Cheat River. This was without question the closest call I have ever witnessed; the victim was foot-entrapped in the Middle of Big Nasty, probably the steepest and swiftest drop in the Cheat Canyon. He had fallen out of a Thrillseeker duckie near the top of the rapid, and the first-down members of his party went chasing the raft and the paddle without realizing that the paddler was stuck almost exactly midriver and almost exactly halfway down the rapid; the hardest possible place to reach. He was breathing in an intermittent air pocket when he was able to get his head high enough, though at one point he went head-down for close to half a minute, and I though it was all over.
People from both sides of the river got ropes to him, but, pulling from the sides, were unable to drag him upriver from the slot he was jammed into. Several attempts to throw a rope across the river failed, but after perhaps five minutes, someone from his group tied two throw ropes together and a kayaker from his group ferried an end across above the rapid. I had been standing behind Steve Ingalls of Cleveland's Keelhaulers, holding the shoulders of his PFD while he got a rope to the victim from river left, when a runner brought the river-left end of the tagline to me. Byron Funnell, from Ft. Wayne Indiana, and Eric Friedensen from Virginia had the other end of the line, but none of us were able to flick it up and over the victim's head, when we tried to float it down it seemed to hang on the back of his helmet, and he was not aware of its presence to bring it over his head and under his arms.
The victim had been entrapped between five and ten minutes, and we were getting desperate on the banks, when he evidently wrenched his foot free, snagged briefly in the tagline until Eric released his end, and floated through the Big Nasty hole to where there were a number of boats waiting to retrieve him. Not long afterwards a Canoe Cruisers' Ass'n of WashDC group came through with Dr. Beth Koller of Rockville, MD, who attended to the patient. I collected my throw bag and hiked down to point out to Kenny Sanders of the Phila. Canoe Club, who appeared to me to be the leader of the patient's group, that there was a backboard strapped to a tree across the river, which would simplify carrying the patient out; that the members of the hiking club having lunch on river-right knew the trail and would probably take shifts as porters; and that it would probably be good to send a runner ahead to have rescue personnel meet the extraction team and take over carrying the patient.
I learned that the victim/patient was a reporter for the Philly paper who had contacted the Phila. Canoe Club and asked to be taken on a paddling trip so that he could write a story about the thrill of running whitewater. I would appreciate it if anyone from Philly who reads NPMB would be alert for any article on this incident, and transcribe it post the transcription, and I would appreciate hearing additional details from any r.b.p readers in the Philly CC.
Byron is an r.b.p reader, and I am sure he will fill in some more information on what he saw and did on river right; I know at least one Philly CC boater, an open boater whom I have heard called "Big Jim" was there with Byron, Eric, and Dave Shuckel. The only people on the tagline on river left were Steve and me and Jim Gross of the Monocacy Canoe Club.
My group reached the takeout just in time for our 6:00 PM shuttle, and I told Glen's wife Donna Miller that Steve Ingalls' party might be late because of the rescue. She waited with one of Glen's trucks until they arrived at almost 7:00; it seems that Steve and his group had stayed to help get the patient up across the river and up the right bank to the trail. Several Keelhaulers read r.b.p, so I hope some of them are able to fill in Steve's part of the story.
This was 'way scary, people. I've never seen such a close one; this guy probably only had a minute or two left when he somehow got free. Jim is convinced that he freed himself by virtue of having our rope to hang onto; I am less convinced, because I didn't feel enough pressure on my end of the tagline (I had the position nearest the water), though it's possible that the river-right crowd were pulling him upriver -- Byron will have to elucidate that point.
Richard Hopley, concise and to the point, as always.
OC-1;Posted to Rec.Boats.Paddle (with names removed):