Accident Database

Report ID# 537

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

Accident Description

: Icicle creek is a small, steep stream draining the west slope of Washington’s Cascades near Leavenworth, Washington. It is steep and technical even at moderate flows, and some drops are routinely portaged. On April 16, 1999 water levels were moderate. The weather was clear and in the 60’s; the water temp was standard snowmelt – very cold!

Scott Richards, 36, had recently moved to the area from Pennsylvania. It was his first run of the season and the first in Washington since moving there. Of the ten kayakers making the Friday evening run, only three had not already run Icicle Creek several times this year. Scott had walked downstream and scouted the rapid before getting into his boat, and he knew the line.

Bob Pfannenstiel, a member of the group, describes what happened:

We put in half way down a Class V-V+ rapid called "Bridge Creek. Drop”. The toughest part is above where we put in; the section immediately below is a Class V  boulder garden containing several sieves and logs to avoid. Seasonal snowmelt was just beginning to bring the creek up. It was at a good level to run this particular rapid.

Seven of us put in at this point and three others were launching below the drop.  The route through the upper part was straightforward: catch a relatively large eddy on the right after the second drop, then make a right to left ferry over the next drop to avoiding an undercut rock and a log. The log was about 2 feet in diameter and 12-15 feet long..

The first three boaters ran the drop with no difficulties. As I ran the first drop I saw that a boater had broached against the rock and the log.  I eddied out and scrambled down the bank to assist. Then Scott Richards lost control while running the second drop and failed to catch the eddy. He was high bracing upstream and attempting to recover when he broached into the other pinned boater at the sieve.

Another kayaker exited his boat when the first kayaker broached was working to free both boats. The first pinned boater grabbed onto Scott immediately, but was unable to hold his head above water. About 20 seconds later Scott flipped. The rescuer, after trying to free the boat, reached under to grab Scott's sprayskirt and found that he had already bailed out. As I got to the scene they’d freed the both kayaks. Scott was nowhere to be seen, and we feared that he was caught in the sieve.

Because no one actually saw Scott leave his boat, we scouted the rest of the rapid and sent two boaters downstream to search for him. We first tried, without success, to approach the sieve from downstream.  Then four of us attempted to shift or move the log. After 20 minutes a dive booty appeared and flushed downstream. We continued our work, hoping that immersion in cold water might allow us to resuscitate Scott if we could free him. But further efforts were unsuccessful. 

We called the Sheriff. A rescue team arrived but could do little in the short amount of daylight remaining.  We used a 12 foot boat hook to probe the sieve just before dark without success. The following morning several of us returned. We searched the banks downstream and tried to assist the rescue squad as they looked at ways to move the log.  Finally, at

 

11:00 a.m., a steel cable was hooked to the log and attached to a chainsaw winch.  They did not pull the log out but were able to move it. Because the cable was fraying, they let it go slack and stopped pulling.  Twenty minutes later the log shifted down into the sieve, and after another thirty minutes it disappeared entirely. Several minutes later I observed Scott's body momentarily float to the surface before broaching again on an underwater section of log. I showed the recovery team where the body was, and after about another hour they were able to recover it.

SOURCE: Written by Bob Pfannenstiel

SURFBWA listserv submission

Dear BWA, I was surprised that Barry caught the report of the death on Icicle Cr. last Friday. It is possible that some of you may have known Scott Richards. He was from Pennsylvania but I believe that he may have attended the University of Cincinnati, since he had a UC sticker on his truck window. Here is a more complete description of the incident. Barry feel free to pass this on to Charlie Walbridge.

A group of 10 of us were doing a Friday evening run of a class IV-V section of Icicle Cr. on the east side of the central Washington Cascades and several of us were going on to do a tougher stretch at the bottom of the run. The weather was nice about 60 F although the water was standard snowmelt - cold! We were putting in half way down a Class V-V+ rapid (It doesn't really have a name, we call it - "Bridge Cr. Drop") that begins this stretch with the toughest part above where we were putting in. The section immediately below was a Class V (V-?) boulder garden containing several sieves to avoid and some logs. Lloyd and Kathy and Mike Clark - you may remember this as the rapid that I showed you on Icicle Cr. when you were out to visit, we were putting in below the major drop in the long rapid. The creek was just beginning to come up due to snowmelt - it was at a relatively easier level to run this particular rapid.

Seven of us were putting in at this point and 3 were putting in below this rapid. Everyone was catching a relatively large eddy on the right after the second drop before making a right to left move over the next drop while avoiding a boulder formed undercut/sieve with a log. It was a big log- maybe 2 ft diameter and 15 ft long with 12 ft underwater, vertically pinned in part of the sieve on the right bank. The drop was about 6 ft wide and the gap between the boulder under water forming the drop and the boulder forming the sieve on the right was only about 2 ft. The first three boaters ran the drop with no difficulties. I was running sweep and as I ran the first drop I saw that the fourth boater (Jason Carver in an Overflow) had broached against the rock and the log that were forming the sieve. I eddied out and was scrambling down the bank to assist during which time the sixth boater down (Scott Richards in a Sleek) lost control running the second drop and failed t! ! ! o catch the eddy. He was high bracing upstream and attempting to recover when he broached into the other broached boat at the sieve. The fifth boater down (Pat Lynch) had gotten out of his boat when the Overflow broached and was working to free both boats. The boater in the Overflow had grabbed onto Scott when he broached into him but was unable to hold Scott above water.

About 20 seconds after the Scott's boat flipped Pat, after being unable to quickly free the boat, reached under to grab Scott's spray skirt but he had already exited. As I got to the broached boats they had freed the sleek and Jason freed the Overflow by jumping on the bow. In the effort and focus working at the point of the broach and since Scott was not actually observed exiting his boat, several boaters scouted the rest of the rapid and two boaters went downstream to make sure that he hadn't been flushed downstream. Jason tried to approach the sieve from downstream and could not approach due to the current.

Four of us then attempted to shift or move the log by any means possible (ropes, prying etc) for the next two hours with ! ! ! some assistance from the other bank from the other boaters. For at least a short while we were hoping that immersion in the cold water might allow us to resuscitate Scott if we could free him. Approximately 20 minutes after the initial broach, a dive booty flushed downstream while we were slightly shifting the log. Continued efforts in the evening produced no results. After the Sheriffs office was called a rescue team arrived but could do little to help us as darkness was rapidly approaching. We did use a 12 ft boathook to probe the sieve just before dark with no success (there was a lot of space under this boulder). We ceased attempts at dark.

The following morning we returned and several of us scouted the banks downstream or tried to assist the Sheriffs office and the rescue squad who were looking at ways to move the log. Finally about 11-11:30 AM a steel cable was hooked to the log and pulled using a chainsaw winch. They were not able to pull the log out but the did shift it after which they let the cable go slack and stopped trying to pull the log because the cable was fraying. About 20 minutes later the log shifted down into the sieve and after another ½ hr it disappeared into the sieve entirely. Several minutes after this I observed Scott's body momentarily float to the surface downstream before broaching again on an underwater section of log. I was able to show the recovery team where the body was stuck and after about another hour they were able to remove his body (about 1:45 PM April 17).

I did not know Scott and had just met him. He had moved from the Pennsylvania during the winter to contract with the Chelan Co. Public Utility District (they operate the Columbia River dams). Other people in our group had gotten to know him better. I do not know what level of water he had kayaked out east but he must have felt that this section was within his ability. As with any fatality or injury we have to look at what might have been done to prevent it. The section of rapid that we were running is difficult but not extreme (although the section immediately above is much more difficult). Scott had walked downstream and looked at the rapid before getting into his boat. I was informed later that this was his first time boating this year (since moving out here) and starting off with a difficult and dangerous rapid when possibly rusty certainly may have contributed to his death. There has been a lot of debate on the effect of boat design on recent fatalities with mu! ! ! ch of it focusing on boat length. This is a case where boat length did not appear to be important but where running a steep creek in a playboat with a low volume stern might have contributed. Scott was not in control after coming over the drop above the sieve, missed a relatively large eddy and was attempting to recover by bracing hard upstream when he broached his Sleek on the Overflow. If the Overflow had not been broached the outcome might not have been any different as the low volume stern of the Sleek could have even more easily dropped into the sieve than the Overflows. After the broach occurred and Scott exited there was little that could have been done. Apparently he was immediately stuck on the log in the sieve after exiting his boat. Shifting that log in the hopes that he could be freed and then revived (the water temp was probably 35-40 ƒF) was our only chance, however without a winch we could do little but slightly shift the log. It is sad whenever we lose someone while boating. These times are important ones for us to reflect on the risks inherent in whitewater kayaking and make sure that we do everything possible to minimize the risks we face. Too often we forget the risks or do not think that it can happen to us or to someone close, although given the number of deaths of experienced kayakers in the last year or two, I would think that only the very naive would think that it couldn't happen to them. I don't know how the boating year in the east will be but it looks to be a wild and wooly year with lots of water here in the Northwest (Snowpacks are running 150 - 200% of normal in Washington). Please, everyone have a safe year boating!! I would really prefer to not have to write or read another one of these this year!! Bob Pfannenstiel 603 C 3rd St. Ellensburg, WA 98926 (509) 962-5716 (I think - I just moved) This is a new address and phone # P.S. - The mailing address at Wenatchee will also still work. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- From: KSTRELETZK@aol.com To: CCC@mailing-list.net Date: Tuesday, April 20, 1999 8:01 AM Subject: [CCC] Wenachtee World article on Icicle Creek kayaker death Kayaker who died in Icicle was no beginner: Scott Richards and friends saw danger but thought it could be avoided By Michelle Partridge, World staff writer LEAVENWORTH-The group of nine veteran kayakers knew their individual skill levels when they put into the Icicle Creek just below Bridge Creek Campground on Friday. Some started partway through the particularly tricky rapid, knowing that the top part was more dangerous. A few started at the very top, confident that they could maneuver the rocks and logs in the narrow gap. One didn't make it to the bottom. The body of Scott R. Richards, 36, a Chelan County PUD engineer who moved from Pennsylvania to Wenatchee in January, was recovered from the river Saturday afternoon as his newfound friends looked on in horror. "We were just a bunch of friends getting together," said kayaker Brian Behle of Cashmere. "But stuff happens out there that you can't control." Behle said none of the others had ever kayaked with Richards before. But Richards was a member of the American Whitewater Association and had kayaked extensively in Pennsylvania. Behle had climbed rocks with Richards last year and considered him to be conservative in his risk taking. So he wasn't concerned when Richards, who had never kayaked on the Icicle Creek before, joined two other kayakers at the very top of the stretch known as the Bridge Creek rapid. "He said he was real comfortable with the rapid," Behle said. "He said he'd done other rapids similar to that." But shortly after they entered the water, Richards and another kayaker ran into trouble in an area where a log was pinned against a rock, just a few hundred feet down river from the campground. As the first kayaker was fighting to get his boat free from the strong current, Richards lost control and his boat ended up on top of the other one and then turned over, pinned against the rocks with one end pointing straight up, recalled kayaker Pat Lynch of Cashmere. Richards was completely submerged in the icy water. The first kayaker was able to get out of his kayak, and Lynch, who had abandoned his own craft to help the others, attempted to free Richards. When he couldn't budge the kayaks, he reached under water into the cockpit of Richards' kayak and discovered that it was empty. "We never saw him again," he said. Behle said everyone knew that the rocky area was dangerous, but said it looked deceptively easy to avoid. "What we didn't know was that it was undercut rocks," he said. "There was a lot more current going into it than it appeared. It was at an area of the rapids where you had to paddle hard from one side of the river to the other. There was also the piece of wood, which is always bad. "He just happened to end up in a place where he didn't want to be," he added. The kayakers were joined by Chelan County sheriff's deputies, Leavenworth firefighters and white-water rescue volunteers in their search for Richards. But the search had to be called off after dark Friday. It resumed Saturday morning, with rescuers using a winch to move the log where Richards disappeared to find and free his body. Richards had no family in the Wenatchee area. His parents were expected to arrive in Wenatchee late Sunday. The other kayakers were identified by the Sheriff's Office as Carl Schill and Jeremy Tritt, both of Wenatchee; Jason Carver, Brandon Freeland and Sarah Alm, all of Cashmere; Robert Pfannenstiel of Ellensburg; and Grant Weidenbach of Klamath Falls, Ore. Behle said all but three of the kayakers had already run the Icicle Creek a few times this year. He said they never go through the Bridge Creek rapid in high water, but they didn't consider the rapid to be overly dangerous on Friday. After investigating the accident, Chelan County sheriff's deputy Matt Fields stressed, "I don't want to imply in any way that these people were doing anything reckless." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Subject: Re: Death on Icicle creek? From: "Shawn" Date: 4/18/99 9:53 PM Eastern Daylight Time Message-id: The Associated Press The body of a missing kayaker was recovered Saturday afternoon from the waters of Icicle River. A group of whitewater kayakers ran into trouble Friday in a rough area of the river just east of the Bridge Creek Campground about eight miles west of Leavenworth, the Chelan County sheriff's office said. One member of the group got pinned against a rock and a log and fell out of his kayak. The rest of the group recovered the kayak but couldn't find the man. A search was halted Friday night when darkness fell. Sheriff's deputies resumed the search Saturday morning. The man's name was not released Saturday night. · The Associated Press © Associated I'm really sorry to hear about this. I have to wonder if this was at the nasty drop below Bridge creek campground where Jon Kraski had a serious near miss (think he broke a few ribs ) a couple of years ago. Condolences to friends and family Shawn ---------------------------------------------- DEPUTIES IDENTIFY DROWNED KAYAKER Leavenworth, Washington A kayaker who drownded in the Icicle River has been identified as Scott B. Richards if Wenatchee. Chelan County sheriff's deputies recovered his body Saturday. Richards had set off Friday with a group from the Bridge Creek campground in Chelan county, about eight miles west of Leavenworht. But the kayakers ran into trouble in whitewater just east of their starting point. richards was pinned under a rock and a log and fell out of his kayak. The group found his kayak but could not find him. Chelan County authorities recovered Richards' body shortly after noon on Saturday. Spokesman-Review Jeff Bennett, in his second edition of Whiteater Rivers of Washington describes this area of the Icicle:"Once you pass beneath Bridge Creek Campground, stay near the left bank. A couple of hundred yards downstream, the river plummets over a nasty Class VI boulder sieve. I've heard that it has been run, but it looks heinous, so portage on river left." I've looked at that section a number of times and would have no interest. It was scary just to look at! If this group put in at Bridge Creek, there is no warm up and no turning back. Condolences to family, friends. -- Paddlingly yours, Mick "Holehog" French Check out McHolehog's Page http://www.icehouse.net/mcfrench "I Like swimmin' wit' bow-legged women." - Popeye ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Here's from a conversation between myself and someone "who was there" and assisted in the body recovery: Ben's Death was not a flush drowning...He had very little water in his lungs. I was there when the EMT's were working on him. they found very little water in his lungs. Isn't there such a thing as a dry drowning? Gosh, no water would have been a good sign though. Guess he had been dead a while. There was however a big cut right next to his left temple. This explains why he was unable to rescue himself. He died of hypothermia due to his long swim. I had heard about the cut on the head but had discounted it, probably because everyone always seems to want to explain everything away by a head injury. Is the hypothermia thing still a best guess or pretty solid by the coroner's report. Thanks for the feedback - was he in full drysuit or some other outfit? Just curious. Kathy I feel that the cut in his head played the biggest part of this tradgedy. It was a deep severe cut. Ben's body temp was ~70 degrees. The doc's say it was hypothermia. He was wearing either a dry or spray top, Protec helmet, Farmer john wetsuit with an old woolen sweater between the suit and jacket. He also had Neoprene boots and wool socks under them. - Mothra (aka Kathy Streletzky)In the third strainer-related whitewater death in the Northwest this season, Scott Richards was trapped partway down a steep rapid in western Washington's Icicle Creek. Richards, a kayaker who had recently moved to Washington State from Pennsylvania, was part of a large group of experienced local paddlers putting in at the Bridge Creek Drop on Friday, April 16th. The river level was low. Some of the group elected to run the lower part of this class V drop while the others got onto the river below it. Reports from Bob Pfannenstiel and Brian Behle describe the accident as follows: The upper run, which Richards took, required a ferry above a strainer. One of the group, paddling a high-volume creek boat, missed the move. His bow was shoved partway under a huge tree trunk, but members of his group were able to retrieve him without much difficulty. Richards, who was paddling a playboat, also missed his ferry. He hit the same tree and was shoved completely underneath it. The party responded, probing the strainer and reaching under the log. Eventually they actually reached into Richards' kayak, but it was empty. The Sheriff was called, but his team did not arrive on the scene until dusk. The next day swiftwater rescue teams arrived with a winch. Using it, they were able to rearrange the strainer and release the body.

ANALYSIS: (Pfannenstiel)

 

 

 

 

 

1. Scott had just moved to Washington State from Pennsylvania. This was his first boating trip of the year, and starting off with a difficult and dangerous rapid when not in practice may not have been wise.

 

 

 

 

 

2. There’s been debate on the effect of boat design on recent fatalities with much attention focusing on boat length. This is a case where boat length did not appear to be important. However, running a steep creek in a playboat with a low volume stern might have contributed. Scott was not in control after coming over the drop above the sieve. He missed a relatively large eddy and was attempting to recover by bracing hard upstream when he broached his Sleek on the Overflow.  If the Overflow had not been broached the outcome might have been no different, since the low volume stern of the Sleek could have dropped into the sieve more easily than the Overflow did.

 

 

 

 

 

3. After the broach occurred and Scott exited there was little that could have been done.  Apparently he was pinned on the log immediately after exiting his boat.  Shifting the log, hoping that he could be freed and then revived was our only chance. But without a winch we couldn’t shift the log much.

 

 

 

 

 

4. It is sad to lose someone while boating, but it  is also important for us to reflect on the risks inherent in whitewater kayaking and make sure that we do everything possible to minimize them. Given the number of deaths among experienced kayakers in the last year or two, only a truly naive paddler could think that it couldn't happen to them.

 

 

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