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Accident Description

On May 1, 1999 a group of 6 paddlers were running in a 16 foot raft down Alberton Gorge on Montana’s Clark Fork. said that the water level was 10,000 cfs at St. Regis, high but reasonable. He also stated that the water was extremely cold.  The weather was cold, in the 40’s with rain. The paddlers were wearing life vests, wetsuits, but no helmets. Their boat hit a large breaking wave in Tumbleweed, a Class III-IV drop, and flipped. Sharon Goyette, 53, did not make it to shore after the raft flipped. Her husband, a member of the Butte’s search and rescue team, was able to find Sharon and get her to shore. They attempted CPR without success. The others climbed up the embankment to the highway and flagged down a motorist. The survivors were taken to a local hospital and treated for hypothermia.

SOURCE: The Missoula Missoulan  

ANALYSIS: (Walbridge)

1. Early season runs leave little margin for error. The most obvious omission: a second boat to help with rescue after a flip. Ms. Goyette could have died even with a safety boat, however.

2. Older people like Ms. Goyette are more vulnerable to problems during cold water swims. This should be taken into account when planning early season trips