Date
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Gage
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Difficulty
Cause
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Experienced/Inexperienced
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Accident Description


The New River Gorge below Cunard contains some of the biggest rapids in the East. On June 13, 1998 the river was running at 7 feet (14,000 cfs), a high level, creating huge waves in the Keeney Rapids where the accident occurred. Charles Chandler, 40, was a kayaker from Anniston, AL. He had driven to the river alone intending to run it. Several guidebooks covering the New River were later found in his car.

Chandler contacted two kayakers at the Cunard launch site and asked if he could join them. They said that Chandler took 20 minutes to run Upper Railroad, a straightforward Class III, then swam several times in easier rapids below. When asked if he had run the river before, he replied, “Yes, at three feet (5800 cfs).” He started to hang back as the group approached the Keeney’s, and was last seen paddling in the eddy at the top of Middle Keeney. The group stopped on shore for lunch and waited for over an hour for Chandler before continuing. They apparently thought that he had taken out.

A veteran guide from North American River Runners spotted Chandler’s body as he was guiding his raft through the Keeney’s. “I first noticed something yellow floating in the water with something black beside it” he said. “I told the people in the boat that it kind of looked like it might be someone. We kept going, and as we got close I knew what it was.”

The guide was carrying six guests between the ages of 12 and 14. “I hauled him into the raft, laid him over the cross tubes, and checked the pulse on his neck. By the color in his face and his eyes, you could tell that he was not breathing.  He was dead when I pulled him into the boat.” Assisted by another guide and a rafting guest who was a nurse, they performed CPR for over 45 minutes. “We did everything in our hands that we could have possibly done to give him that one chance. Everything went very smoothly. In 45 minutes to an hour we had that man out of a very isolated river due to the communication on the radios back to North American and them communicating to the National Park Service.”

A medivac helicopter hovered over a large rock while Chandler was loaded on board. He failed to respond to CPR and never regained consciousness. He was flown to a hospital in Beckley where he was pronounced dead on arrival. 

SOURCE: Rick Brown, NPS, via the NPS  Morning Report; Beckley Register-Herald; Kyle Chavis and Dave Bassage posting to rec.boats.paddle.

ANALYSIS: (Walbridge)

1. Although the New at high water is not particularly difficult, it is a bad place to swim. The currents are very powerful and just getting to shore is an accomplishment. The runout of the Keeney Rapids is studded with boils and whirlpools that can pull a life-jacketed swimmer under water for some time.

2. There is safety in numbers, paddling alone is not the safest approach to the New River at any level. There is no one to help out if anything goes wrong. The presence of other paddlers could have been life saving in this instance.

3. Deciding whether or not to let a stranger accompany your group on a river is not easy, but if you have agreed to take someone into your group you need to: 1) keep track of them and help them if needed or 2) tell them they need to carry out for their own safety. For the sake of your peace of mind this must be communicated clearly, even if it requires a time-consuming up-river hike. If the person agrees to leave the river and later re-enters it, they do so without expectation of help. Communication within this group was not good, and this resulted in Chandler being left behind. In addition, boaters should make an effort to stay with their group, and not separate without telling someone beforehand.

1. Although the New at high water is not particularly difficult, it is a bad place to swim. The currents are very powerful and just getting to shore is an accomplishment. The runout of the Keeney Rapids is studded with boils and whirlpools that can pull a life-jacketed swimmer under water for some time.

2. There is safety in numbers, paddling alone is not the safest approach to the New River at any level. There is no one to help out if anything goes wrong. The presence of other paddlers could have been life saving in this instance.

3. Deciding whether or not to let a stranger accompany your group on a river is not easy, but if you have agreed to take someone into your group you need to: 1) keep track of them and help them if needed or 2) tell them they need to carry out for their own safety. For the sake of your peace of mind this must be communicated clearly, even if it requires a time-consuming up-river hike. If the person agrees to leave the river and later re-enters it, they do so without expectation of help. Communication within this group was not good, and this resulted in Chandler being left behind. In addition, boaters should make an effort to stay with their group, and not separate without telling someone beforehand.

 

From: PMriver Newsgroups: rec.boats.paddle

Subject: Kayaker dies on New river @ 7 ft.

Date: Monday, June 15, 1998 10:41 AM

This is the story as reported by the local newspaper. Several boaters that I spoke with reported that kayaker had difficulty further upstream at Upper railroad. The kayaker reportedly swam this section and was rescued. I can not comment on the skill level of this kayaker, but the New at high water is no place for a long swim. The currents are very powerful and just getting to shore is an accomplishment. There is safety in numbers, paddling alone is not the safest approach to the New river at high water. There is some speculation that the kayaker hooked up with several other boaters at the put in. He was not with their group but ask if he could tag along. They agreed but eventually got split up. Leaving the kayaker boating alone.

The above statements are in no way to be interpreted as fact. I boat in this community and am well connected with the rafting companies and video boaters. These statements are based on conversations with the above.

Kayaker's body identified

By Rebeccah Cantley Register-Herald Reporter The National Park Service has identified the body of a kayaker found Saturday in the New River below the Keeney Rapids. Park Ranger Greg Malcolm said Charles Chandler Jr., 40, of Anniston, Ala., was found floating in the river about 4:15 p.m. Saturday.

Mark Lewis, general manager of North American River Runners rafting company, said a commercial tour of rafters found Chandler not breathing and with no pulse. Lewis said two tour guides tried to revive Chandler by administering CPR. Malcolm said guides continued CPR until Chandler was airlifted from the New River Gorge to Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley. Chandler's body was sent to the state medical examiner's office for an autopsy, he said.

Malcolm said there were no reports that Chandler had any visible injuries. "No one saw this accident occur," he said. "They just found the boater floating downstream in his life jacket and helmet." "Right now we're waiting on the medical examiner's findings," he said. "We will continue checking with people in the river community to see if anyone was around to see what happened." Malcolm said it appears Chandler was kayaking alone. "At one point he had been paddling with other boaters, but he was not with any boaters at that time." Malcolm said Chandler was vacationing from Alabama.

A.J. Beaulier, the guide who pulled Chandler from the river, said he spotted the kayaker as he was guiding his raft through the Keeney Rapids. "I first noticed something yellow floating in the water with something black beside it," he said. "At the time it didn't look like a life jacket ... but he was about half way down the middle section of the Keeney on the right hand side when I first noticed him." Beaulier said he was reluctant to admit to himself that the object he saw was indeed a person. "It took a couple looks for it to really register, and I told the people in the boat that it kind of looked like it might be someone." Toward the end of the rapids section, Beaulier said Chandler disappeared in rough waters. "We kept going, and as we got close I knew what it was, but you still kind of try to deny it. 'It's not a person, ' " he said.

Beaulier, who was the main guide for the commercial trip, pulled Chandler into his raft carrying six guests between the ages of 12 and 14. "I laid him over the cross tubes, checked the pulse on his neck," he said. "The color in his face and his eyes, you could tell that he was not breathing. He was dead when I pulled him into the boat." Beaulier said he, another North American guide, Chris Esposito, a guide from Drift A Bit rafting company and a customer, who is a nurse, flushed water out of Chandler's body before taking him to shore. The three placed the kayaker on a rock to have a stable place to begin CPR. "Within in two to three minutes we were doing CPR on him," he said.

The children in Beaulier's raft watched and hoped rescue efforts would be successful. "They were all hugging and praying the whole time," he said. Although the rescuers were unable to revive Chandler, Beaulier said the group remained calm. "We did everything in our hands that we could have possibly done to give him that one chance," he said. "Everything went very smoothly." Beaulier said guides prepare for such emergencies with emergency medical technician classes, wilderness rescue training and swift water rescue classes.

The group performed CPR for at least 45 minutes, Beaulier said. "In 45 minutes to an hour we had that man out of a very isolated river due to the communication on the radios back to North American and them communicating to the National Park Service. "It just shows a lot for the whole rafting corporation that we are trained to be rescuers if we have to." The rescuers talked to Chandler during the attemt to revive him, Beaulier said. "For about three seconds when we first started CPR we felt a pulse," he said. "Within the first 2 minutes of CPR the pulse was very, very vague, but it didn't last. We talked to him, trying to get him to come out of it."

Beaulier said Chandler was airlifted by a helicopter that landed on a large rock in the middle of the river. Beaulier, who has nine years of guiding experience, said Saturday was the first time he actually had to attempt to revive an accident victim. Although Beaulier said he was able to recall his medical skills for the rescue, he said the emotional effects were overwhelming. "It's one thing to be on a commercial rafting trip and have someone on your trip fall out, but to just be going through a rapid and mysteriously find a person makes in a little different too," he said. Beaulier also said he noticed Chandler's wedding band and wondered if he had a family. "Everyone wants to be that one in a million to actually bring somebody back. Everyone was praying the whole time, all the kids. That was really nice to have." Beaulier said he is satisfied with the rescuers' efforts. "We gave him the best possible chance to come back," he said. "We gave it all we had. We were on it ... we got him in the boat and with the experience we had with us, we all just did what we had to do.

On Sun, 14 Jun 98 20:45:02 PDT, in rec.boats.paddle Kyle Chavis wrote: I have this information from a good friend that I paddled with today on the New. He said that the fella was alone and asked if he could paddle with them. Which they said ok, they say he took out before Upper Railroad and they waited for some 20 minutes before he ran this rapid. The paddlers ask if he was ok and had been down this river before? His answer was yes once at 3 feet. They also say he would never stay with the group even after asking if he could paddle with them. He swan one rapid before Ender Wave and they helped him there but he still continued to paddle alone.

He stayed way back from the group as they approached the Keeney's, they had one person of river left and the rest eddy on river right in Lower Keeney but he never came one person saw him take out at Upper Keeney. The group waited for over hour +/-, eating a snack and taking a break but never saw the kayaker again. It was their estimate the accident happened about an hour and half after they left Lower Keeney.

I spoke with a Park Ranger this morning at Cunard but he really didn't know much more than what has been told by the boater that found him, and perhaps the offical word would be out in a couple days. As far as I know no one saw the accident when it happened. Truthly sad, my prayers to the victim's family and friends. Kyle Chavis

The New River in southern West Virginia has been flowing at extremely high levels most of this year. This is a big, wide river with Grand Canyon-sized rapids at these levels. Self-rescue would be extremely difficult, even at lower flows. On June 13 the river was running at 7' (roughly 14,000 cfs). Dave Bassage ED of Friends of Cheat, a former full-time New River guide, reported that commercial outfitters found Charles Chandler, 40, of Annison, Alabama, floating face down in a large eddy below Lower Keaney at 4:15 PM. Aided by a customer who was a nurse, guides pulled Chandler into a raft and immediately attempted resuscitation. The guides radioed for help, and Chandler was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Beckley 45 minutes later, where he was pronounced dead.

A follow-up investigation by Park Service rangers reported that Chandler had started the run at Cunard with two other paddlers. Rangers found several guidebooks in Chandler's car. Another Rec.Boats.Paddle posting reported that he heard this from two of his friends: Chandler told them that he had run the river once before, at 3' (5800 cfs). They allowed him to join them. He swam in the warm-up rapids. The group then waited 20 minutes at the bottom of Railroad Rapids before he came through. He swam again at Ender Waves, and was last seen taking out in an eddy above Class IV Upper Keaney. The group waited for over an hour below Class IV+ Lower Keaney, assumed he was walking out on the railroad grade, and continued downstream. Walking out May have been Chandler's original intention, but apparently he re-entered the river later and continued alone.

The New is a poor choice for soloists at high water because of its width, turbulence, and difficulty. Mutual support can be life-saving. Deciding whether or not to let a stranger accompany your group on a river is never easy, but once you have agreed to take someone on you need to do one of two things; 1) keep track of them and help them if needed or 2) tell them to carry out for their own safety. For the sake of your peace of mind in the event of a mishap this must be communicated clearly. This May require a time-consuming up-river hike. If a person agrees to leave the river and then re-enters the water, they do so without expectation of assistance from others.