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Accident Description

From the Birmingham Canoe Club Newsletter

On April 21, 1991, a 10 year old boy almost drowned on the Locust Fork River due to a foot entrapment. As I learned of the incident at the takeout that Sunday afternoon (Swann Bridge), I became angry at myself for not stopping and offering my assistance; I had paddled right by the incident thinking it was merely a pinned boat. OK, I admit it - I hate rubber-neckers - it seemed only natural for me and my party to continue on downstream. If others on the river that day had thought as I did - the following story would not have a happy ending.

Sunday, April 21st was supposed to be warm and sunny with temperatures in the 70's. As it turned out it was overcast, windy and cool (low 60's). The water level was great for first-timers on the river (2.9 feet steady). Mike Callahan and his 10 year old son, David, were among the many on the river that day. Earlier, David had just been given an expensive pair of hiking boots. To David and his father, this seemed like the perfect time to wear them. Everything was going perfectly until they took a spill at Double Trouble. Wet and cold (father tells me they had on cotton clothing) they sat on the rocks drying off between the top and bottom drop of Double Trouble. While watching others run the drops, Mike spots a party of two trying to free a canoe which has pinned on a large boulder mid-stream. This is the large rock that separates the main drop from a dangerous tight secondary chute at the bottom drop of Double Trouble (river right). David and his father offered assistance to the two men.

It's at this point everything starts happening too fast. Mike Callahan yells dowstream to the two by the pinned canoe, "to throw him a rope and he'll pull from the bank upstream." When the pinned canoe doesn't budge, 10 year old David Callahan jumped in the fast water to assist them. David must have thought that he could swim or walk on the river bed to get to the two canoeists. Instead, the current washed David into the fast narrow chute of water on river right. The two canoeists watched helplessly as David struggled against the current. (Mike told me at this point that he instructed David to put his life jacket back on.) David, under-estimating the river's power, tried to get his footing. Thinking he could stop against the current he tried to stand up. Just as he entered the chute, he grabbed a large boulder on his left and yelled in terror, "DAD - DAD!" David knew his foot was stuck. His Dad, who's upstream from the site not realizing the situation told David, "Let go - don't hang on - go through." At this point David either let go or lost his grip. The current pushed him face-down under a foot of fast flowing water.

NOTE: Tommy Cary (one of the rescuers), in his letter says: "I yelled for Dean to get David's head up. He did this by grabbing David's life jacket in one hand and the side of the pinned canoe in the other hand. I leaned out into the current holding Dean, who grabbed David's life vest and pulled. We could not get his head up all the way but water was flowing over his head creating a tunnel where he could breath. After only a few minutes of this, David's life vest pulled off and his head went underwater again.

Dean grabbed the rock and worked upstream and I swam over and was able to stand against the rock, just downstream in the eddy created by David's body. We were in chest deep water which was very swift. Dean pulled on David's arms, got a shoulder against the boy's body and using his hands got under David's chin. Doing this we were able to get his head a few inches above water - he was breathing!! The two of us could not free a hand to do anything else. Anytime we let up, David went back underwater. I don't know how long we held him like this but we were getting very tired pushing against the current and could not free his foot. Several times David's dad jumped in from upstream in desperation and was immediately swept by us, almost knocking us down.

After several minutes, two people showed up to assist us. They threw a rope down to us and we tied it under David's arms. As they pulled from above, this gave Dean and me some relief. However, we still could not free his foot and had to maintain our position to keep his head above the water. By now, people were all along the bank (over a dozen boats had stopped.) Another rope was attached to David; three people pulled from upstream, still no luck. Dean was showing signs of exhaustion and getting cold. As I stayed in the water holding David's head up, someone tied a rope around his waist and went underwater to attempt to free David's foot. It was this person that finally freed David's large cleated hiking boot from the rock underwater.

David's leg was immobilized with driftwood splints at the accident site. Upon examination his leg was found to be broken but otherwise his health was as good as any 10 year-old's can be.


By now we should know the risks of standing up in whitewater. The accident was caused by the victim's inexperience combined with a poor choice of footwear. His group handled the rescue extremely well, responding quickly and effectively.(CW)