MIRACULOUS SAVE ON THE ARKANSAS
By Tom Karnuta, Chief instructor, Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center
Four expert local paddlers were running a section of the Arkansaw River in Colorado known as the Numbers. The run was fast continuous and at a gauge reading of 4.7', solid class four. All paddlers put boating at the top of their life's priorities, boating in excess of 150 days per year. They had just completed rapid number five and were within a quarter mile of our take-out when a lone boat came past. Looking back upstream, we noticed the boater was on shore and ok.
The river at this point is very continuous, and as the four of us took off after the kayak we knew we could be in for a long chase. As we chased the boat we all noticed that a throw-rope was attached behind the seat of the kayak, (large 70' type). A small piece of rope ran through the rear wall of the kayak attached directly to a carabiner, which was connected to a small D ring attached to the rope bag, (very common on most commercial throw bags).
During the chase the knotted end of this rope came loose from the bag and 70' of rope was trailing in the river, still attached to the kayak. Several facts are important to note at this point:
1. The loose end of the rope had a large loop knot in it.
2. The bag end of the rope is still attached within the kayak.
3. All 70 foot of the rope has paid loose from the bag.
4. All four of us are aware of the above situation.
We chased the boat through very continuous class 3+ water, with virtually no eddies for about a half a mile. At this point, Greg and I were ahead of the boat and eddied out in a large eddy on river right. Looking upstream from this eddy we could see Tim and Lincoln moving with the boat towards our location. At our position in the eddie the river constricts a bit forming several large waves in the main current.
Just above this location the boat got away from Lincoln and moved out into these waves. Lincoln quickly made a move back towards the boat, which was in the center of the river, directly across from Greg and I in the eddy. At this point Greg and I were both in the process of peeling out of the eddy, Tim was slightly upstream. Lincoln moving very quickly and precisely, was about to make contact with the bow of his boat and the loose kayak. As Lincoln positioned his bow against the loose kayak, the front of his boat, (fiberglass race boat EXTRA) passed under the rope from the throw-bag.
The rope was totally invisible to all of us at this time. (The knot of the rope lodged in a rock somewhere upstream very close to its maximum length). As Lincoln paddled into the unseen rope, it tangled in his paddle and around his upper right arm.
Lincoln gave a short yell as the rope quickly extended to maximum length pulling him and his boat underwater. It is important to visualize Lincoln's position at this time.
1. Body completely submerged
2. The rope is around his right biceps and the paddle shaft.
3. Lincoln is facing the current. (Allowing his life jacket to remain in place).
4. He is positioned in the center of the river, directly in a large violent wave.
Quick action was taken by the boating party to extend a throw rope across the river, in an attempt to snag Lincoln. We had just finished running gates upstream and only had one throw rope, a 50 foot kayak bag. Unfortunately this rope was not long enough to extend across the river.
Lincoln's paddle (wood), attached to his forearm, was violently being snapped up and down with the pulsating wave. By some stroke of luck the paddle shaft broke in half, allowing Lincoln to slide free of the rope. We noticed his blue lifejacket some 15 yards downstream and quickly pursued after him. (Approximate time lapse at this point is 4 to 6 minutes). As I quickly approached I thought it was only Lincoln's lifejacket, but upon reaching it I found Lincoln was still in the jacket, face down, on his stomach, extremely cyanotic. I held Lincoln's head up out of the water in an attempt to reopen his airway, and with great effort by Greg moved Lincoln through extremely continuous call 3 water towards shore.
CPR was immediately started by Tim and I, Greg went to call the ambulance. It is important to remember that the water was runoff, (cold). We kept Lincoln's body close to the water the entire time CPR was administered for approximately 45 to 50 minutes while waiting for the ambulance. Lincoln regained a weak pulse, and started breathing on his own just as the EMT's arrived on location. Oxygen was immediately administered and Lincoln was transported to Salida Hospital and then air lifted to Colorado Springs. There he made a complete recovery over the course of several weeks, and he's back on the water as I write.
Special thanks must be given to Al Johnson, whose fantastic high energy and enthusiasm was instrumental in keeping us all going. Also, to the guides of Crested Butte Rafting who were on the scene and were also instrumental in performing excellent CPR and support.