CANOEIST KILLED WHILE PORTAGING DROP
Russian River near Squaw Rock: March 29,1989
River level: High; Classification III
DESCRIPTION: John DeGeorge was killed attempting to rescue his friend, Bruce Duval, who fell into the Russian River while the pair was portaging their canoe around Class III Squaw Rock Rapid. This report comes from Jeff Anderson, a local boater.
"My wife and I arrived about one hour after the would-be rescuer was washed downstream to his death. The survivor was standing on a rock below Class III Squaw Rock Rapid, about fifteen yards above Graveyard Rapid, a class II technical run. At Saturday's high water levels the rock garden had become a long series of high waves with all rocks submerged. I don't know the cfs rate, but it was close to coming over the low water bridge at Cumminsky Creek.
"The survivor's rock was located in a group of rocks to the left of the main flow, about twelve yards from the bank on river left. He was wearing hiking clothes; no helmet, wetsuit, or PFD was visible. The victim was similarly equipped according to the Mendicino County Sheriffs Office. Air temperature was around 55 degrees, and the water was probably a good bit colder.
"The helicopter did not arrive until 1 1/2 hours after we did. The survivor was in a stable position on the rocks the entire time. Brush was nearby, and he used this to steady himself against the helicopter's strong rotor wash.
"The authors of California Whitewater state that this section of the Russian River, near Cloverdale, is unsafe for inexperienced canoeists at high water. In addition to the decision to run the river without safety equipment or a back-up boat, I think the unfortunate victim misjudged the strength of the current when he attempted paddle the canoe out to rescue his friend. The survivor's stable position on the rock left him plenty of time to summon expert help."
ANALYSIS: Helicopters seem like a good idea, but they have real limitations and their response time is agonizingly slow. I suspect that the helicopter rescue could have been avoided had one properly-trained person with a throw bag been on the scene.(CW)