Pine Creek through the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is a very popular beginner's float trip. The trop at thev head of the canyon, Class III Owassee Rapids, is much more difficult than the rest of the run. On the day of the accident the river was flowing high and cold due to recent rains and snowmelt.
On march 26, 1988 ten paddlers in five canoes began the trip through the canyon. All wore life vests; none had wetsuits or previous whitewater experience. Four of the five boats flipped in the 3-5 foot waves in Owassee Rapid. Three of the four crews that flipped made it ashore. The fourth crew, which flipped high in the rapid, held onto their boat and washed some distance downstream. One man was rescued byb the sole upright canoe; the other lost consciousness and floated five miles downstream until rescued by another party. He was alive when recovered, but died in a hospital that evening.
SOURCE: Pennsylvania Fish Commission
Cold water is a harsh learning environment for novices. Combined with inadequate clothing and limited rescue skills the results were tragic. If the water had been warmer, the group would have laughed about the incident afterwards. Life jackets were not enough to protect the victim in this case, although they did make rescue easier.