BAD PIN ON THE COSSATOT RIVER
DATE: May 19, 1989
On Friday, May 19,1989, two kayakers decided to make a late afternoon run through Cossatot Falls, after which they would carry back up to the parking area above. Cossatot Falls is Class II-IV, (V in high, cold water) and is composed of six distinct drops spread over one-fourth mile. The gradient is over 100 ft/mile. It was a warm day as Jim Small of Bossier City, Louisiana and Larry Denton of North Little Rock, Arkansas began their descent. As they approached the Washing Machine Rapid (Class IV) they decided on the cheat route ledge to the right of the main drop, with Small going first and eddying out river right. As Denton dropped into the five foot ledge he pinned at an acute angle with water pouring over his back and head in classic "rooster tail" fashion. Jim Simmons of Shreveport, Louisiana, who had walked down on river left and was relaxing on a rock ledge across and below, witnessed the pin, but was without boat or safety equipment.
Jim Small immediately got out of his kayak and scrambled over the slippery rock ledge and reached Denton within two or three minutes of the accident. Denton was pressed into the cockpit unable to bend his legs at the knees and unable to push himself out of the cockpit. Small took Denton's right arm and twisted and pulled until he worked Denton free. Both collapsed exhausted on the ledge. Simmons, keeping eye contact, had started back up to the parking lot for boat and equipment and noted the actual time of entrapment at about seven minutes. The boat, a Kevlar "Image" remained submerged for another several minutes. Another kayaker, Bob Hedge, who was below but not with Small and Denton, had observed the accident and returned with a throw bag which was eventually used to free the boat. Just then Simmons returned with a first aid kit, more safety gear, and a hastily fashioned hook on a pole. The boat was freed by snaring the stern with a slip loop, which fortunately held tight. The stern of the kayak was severely damaged during the recovery.
Denton and Small were checked for injury, after which Simmons ferried Denton across to river left above the accident site, returning to ferry Denton's kayak across in a solo canoe. A post-accident interview was conducted in the parking lot with Small, Denton, Hedge and Simmons participating.
Although Denton's kayak was without air bags, the seat and styrofoam walls remained intact while he was entrapped inside. The grab loops were not large enough to secure a hand hold and it's doubtful the improvised carabiner hook could have snared the boat. Although both boaters had ropes in their cars and stated they usually carried them on the river, on this occasion neither kayaker carried safety ropes, knife or whistle. Not having paddled together before, neither was familiar with the paddling and safety habits of the other.
Jim Small's courageous and quick action was heroic! He attributed his response to having read the 1982-85 River Safety Reports and River Rescue by Bechdel and Ray. Additionally, it is fortunate that Hedge was alert to return from below with his rope, although a tag line for stabilization could not have been rigged quickly enough (or at all) because the high flow made the river too wide. Simmons, without boat and safety equipment when the pin occurred, would have been unable to offer immediate assistance had the pin been "head down". Finally, the river was too high for only two paddlers without adequate support and the necessary safety gear.
Source: Jim Small, Larry Denton, Jim Simmons