NEAR MISS ON THE OCOEE
By Slim Ray
This past June we've had two near misses on the Ocoee, a river nearly everyone takes for granted. The canoe incident involved a group of some twenty open canoeists from South Carolina. Kyle Altman of Irmo, S.C., was on his second trip down the Ocoee in a Mad River Explorer. Altman has been paddling for seven years and the group was described as "experienced." Altman's boat was fitted with air bags but used the standard Mad River canoe seats. He had shortened the dowels which spaced the seat to the gunnels, leaving 4-6" of exposed threads underneath the seat. While in a small rapid above Flipper, Altman broached sideways on a rock "after a moment of inattention." The upstream gunnel went under, rolling the boat upstream, crushing the upstream gunnel against Altman's leg and driving the two seat bolts into his ankle. A small rock forward and underneath the pin rock prevented the boat from rolling all the way over. Altman was in no immediate danger (the water never got higher than his waist), but with his left leg pinned under the gunnel, he wasn't going anywhere.
The group reacted quickly. They were unable to extricate Altman, but stabilized the boat by tying it off at both ends. One of the group hitch-hiked out for help, while the rest attempted an extrication. River knives were useless against ABS, and although the group had a hatchet, they found that it, too, was of no avail.
The hitch-hiker contacted Russ Miller, an EMT and a member of the local rescue squad. Miller has taught a number of river rescue courses locally. They called an ambulance, borrowed a carpenter's saw, and went back to the accident site. Using the saw, Miller cut the boat in half near the midsection, finally releasing Altman, who escaped with minor injuries. The overall time from pin to rescue was between 45 minutes and an hour.
ANALYSIS: We tend to take rivers like the Ocoee for granted, which obviously is a mistake. The canoe group knew the basics of rescue and acted correctly and quickly. Several members stated after the rescue that; they were carrying saws from now on, and they were taking a river rescue class. We've talked about the desirability of carrying saws for some time now, but this is the first time I'm aware of that rescuers have actually cut a boat in half to extricate a victim. Altman felt (and I agree) that it was a mistake to leave the exposed threads on the bolts below the seat, since they contributed materially to the pinning.