Accident Database

Report ID# 534

  • Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • High Water

Accident Description

On February 28, 1999 Tom Bell, 50, and Steve Harris, 57, were doing an exploratory run on the Raging River above Rt. 18. The river, a tiny tributary of the Snoqualmie, was running at 754 cfs at Fall City . This turned out to be a very high level. The run was rated Class IV, very continuous, with few eddies. The temperature was in the high 30's  with intermittent rain.

Bell was in the lead by about 50 yards when he disappeared around a blind bend. Harris followed. When he rounded the bend he found Tom caught beneath a river-wide strainer. Unable to eddy out, Harris was pushed under the same strainer. He hung there for a time before he was able to release himself and swim to shore. He then spent a long time on the shore recovering from his ordeal, coughing and spitting up blood.

Bell was floating face down and free of the log, but Harris could not get to him. At approximately

4:00 p.m.

Harris started walking out to his car. Because he was suffering from hypothermia, it took him several hours to get out. After reaching his truck, it took him a long time to recover sufficiently to drive out and notify police. He is now in the hospital, recovering from hypothermia. A video clip of the accident site made the evening news; boaters who saw it said that there was a 5 foot drop, with the runout blocked by debris. There was no clear line anywhere.

The next day the King County Search and Rescue Team, along with the King County Sheriff's Department, went to the scene. They recovered Bell ’s body and brought him out. He was found approximately 200 feet downstream of where the accident occurred, about 1/2 to one mile upstream of the Route 18 bridge.    

SOURCE: Jock Bradley, Washington Kayak Club Safety Chairman; Nick Borelli; Associated Press; Seattle Times


Articel is preliminary From Seattle Times web site today:

1 kayaker survives, 1 missing near Preston by Seattle Times staff

PRESTON - King County Sheriff divers were searching this morning for a Seattle man who apparently drowned yesterday while kayaking with a friend on the Raging River, southeast of Preston. The incident occurred when the victim, 42, and a 50-year-old friend from the Seattle area, were sucked into a log jam and pulled under in their separate kayaks about 2:30 p.m.,police reported. After being trapped under water, the older man was able to free himself and got to shore where he collapsed for about 90 minutes, he told police. He then saw his companion floating face down in the river but was unable to reach him.The man then hiked cross-country for several hours until he found a logging road that led to Highway 18. He subsequently located his car along the highway, warmed himself and then notified police about 10:20 p.m., according to the sheriff's office.

Von Behren Pat wrote: The local NPR news in Seattle this morning said that one kayaker was believed drowned and there will be a search for the body. A second kayaker was said to have swum to shore and is presumably OK.

Sent via the whitewater mailing list, managed by

I've pieced this information together from online sources, so please take it with a grain of sale, but the facts appear to be: Location: Raging River, near Preston, WA Date: February 28, 1999 Victim: Tom Bell, 42, of Seattle, WA Apparently Tom and another paddler were trapped in a log jam; the other paddler barely managed to escape and summon help, but too late to save Tom. ---Rsk Rich Kulawiec

Date: Tue, 2 Mar 1999 12:39:25 -0800 Reply-To: Sender: Precedence: bulk From: Nick Borelli To: "Whitewater Rivers of Washington State" Subject: Dr. Tom Bell MIME-Version: 1.0 X-To: ww-rivers X-Cc: Steven Munk , "David Bradley (EST)" I was home for lunch and KING-5 had a mention of Tom's unfortunate accident on the Raging River on Sunday. They showed a short video clip of the drop that still had a red kayak in a log's clutches. The video was shot from a bank about 40 feet above the river on river right. The rapid was a river wide falls that was between 4-5 feet in height. I'd guess the flow no more than 500 cfs which is probably pretty close since the Raging on the gauge was running between 600-900 downstream that day. The falls was completely blocked by a number of big logs which also dammed up all other wood debris that would come down the river. It was a certain problem if anyone would have tried to navigate the falls; there was no line or any way to get through. - NickOn February 28th Dr. Tom Bell, 52, and a friend were exploring the Raging River, a small, class III-IV creek east of Redmond, Washington, at high water. Jock Bradley, president of the Washington Canoe Club, reported that the party came around a blind bend and was confronted with an unavoidable strainer below a ledge. Bell was stuffed under the strainer and drowned. His friend was trapped momentarily, lost his boat, and broke free only after a desperate struggle. Coughing blood and water, he began a four-mile hike out to notify authorities. He was hospitalized for water inhalation and hypothermia. Rescuers recovered the body the next day.

ANALYSIS (Walbridge):






1. When running whitewater, paddlers should not move ahead unless they can see a clear route to the bottom of each drop, or to the next sure eddy. This is especially important on exploratory runs, but becomes difficult when the water is high. This accident shows us the terrible potential consequences of running blind drops. Mr. Harris was extremely lucky.






2. High water increases the difficulty involved in making a controlled descent of an unknown stream. Low water is better for exploratories because of this, although on small creeks the window of runnability may be very small.



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