Accident Database

Report ID# 616

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Accident Description

The Sun Kosi is a classic 170 mile long Class IV run in . Despite some impressive whitewater, it had never caused a whitewater boating fatality before. But 1999 was a wet year in the mountains of , and the river was running very high at between 50,000 and 100,000 cfs. Local boaters feel that this was not an unreasonable level. Several rafting companies had been down the river recently without problems, and were on the water when the accident occurred.

Jim Traverso, 44, was a fit, experienced kayaker who had lived and boated in for twelve years. On this, his third trip down the Sun Kosi, he was leading a group of seven paddlers from New England. Ultimate Descents, one of ’s top rafting companies, provided kayak guides and oar boats to carry gear.

The accident occurred on October 9, 1999 on the sixth day of a nine-day trip. The group stopped and scouted “Jaws”, a hard Class IV rapid located just below the confluence of the Dudh Kosi. Below this rapid is “Dead Man’s Eddy”, a powerful recirculating current which even at low flows is capable of sucking ten foot logs under water. David Allardice, the outfitter, describes the events that followed:

“We decided that the kayakers who wished to run the drop would go first, then provide safety for the raft. Rob Hind, the lead kayak guide, went first, followed closely by a woman, Jim Traverso, and four other paddlers. The woman behind Hind capsized and took a swim. Rob rescued her, towing her to the right bank, then chased her kayak. He ended up a long distance downstream.

“Jim Traverso capsized and rolled in the first hole, then capsized and swam in the huge exploding waves in the main part of the rapid. Ken, Dave, and Beau were following him and came to his rescue.  Ken asked if Jim was OK; he answered, ”Yes.” Ken then began towing him to the right bank. Jim kept holding onto his kayak, and Ken realized that they were not moving right fast enough. Dave offered to take Jim’s kayak but by then they were being washed towards Dead Man’s Eddy. Suddenly a huge pillow of water tore Jim off the back of Ken’s boat, sucked him down, and carried him into the eddy. This same surge washed his rescuers to the right. This was the last time that Jim was definitely seen alive.”

Meanwhile the other two kayakers ran “Jaws” and eddied out below to provide safety for the rafts. They picked up Mary, who had portaged, and moved downstream. One of the gear boats eddied out on the right, opposite Dead Man’s Eddy. Jim was floating face down in the eddy as the current swirled around.  Two kayaks were brought upstream so that boaters could ferry into the eddy, and the gear raft was paddled across the river so the guides could move upstream to assist.

The rescuers found Jim floating face down. His skin was gray and his eyes open. His helmet was still on, and there was no visible sign of injury. Two kayakers entered the eddy and tried to push Jim to shore. They were unsuccessful and quickly became exhausted. As they prepared for a second attempt, Jim’s life jacket was pulled from his body. After a few brief moments near the surface he disappeared under water. It was now late afternoon and the safety of the group – traumatized, shocked, and spread out downstream – was the first priority.  

Mary Malmros, a member of the party, described the events as follows:  

I was the only kayaker in our party to carry around the top part of the rapid.  I saw Jim flip and swim, but assumed that he was in no danger, with rescuers so close by.  With two other kayakers, I proceeded to ferry across to river right, opposite Dead Man's Eddy. We were told by raft guides that Jim was in the eddy. We saw him, floating face down, not moving, and being carried around and around in the strong eddy current.  

We made all possible efforts to rescue him, including sending two strong kayakers into the eddy and ferrying the paddle raft across to the next downstream eddy so that rescuers could hike upstream to assist the kayakers, but  we were unsuccessful.  The kayakers did reach him in the eddy two or three times, but were unable to hold on.  The eddy current kept circulating them back into the eddy fence, an extremely turbulent boil filled with large debris. Two of our party climbed on the cliff at downstream end of the eddy, preparing to climb down and attempt to snag Jim.  Jim was not moving or responsive at any time. After perhaps ten minutes, we saw that he had become separated from his PFD. He circled a few more times and then disappeared underwater. His body was never seen again and was lost to the Sun Kosi.   

Source: David Allardice, Ultimate Descents; Mary Malmros

ANALYSIS (Allardice)  

1. High flows may not make the Sun Kosi High more technically difficult, but they do increase the consequences of a swim.

2. Several members of Traverso’s kayaking team observed that it is not possible for a single boater to pull both a swimmer and his gear in water this big. Had Traverso  simply let go of his boat, he probably would have been pulled to safety. The woman who swam earlier let go of her boat, and was rescued quickly.

3. Traverso’s life jacket, an old ribbed model with a zipper and waist tie, may not have given him the support that would have been provided by a more modern design.

4. The Group noted that just before he was washed away he seemed to have given up swimming to assist his rescuer. He may have had a heart attack, or simply become exhausted or inhaled water during his swim.

5.  Those familiar with the river describe Dead Man’s Eddy as an unpleasant and dangerous place, but felt that most swimmers in it would survive. Once washed into the eddy, each time Traverso was pulled to the top and into the main current, he was pulled under water for a few seconds. He was then recirculated on the surface for the rest of the cycle, about two minutes. If he was uninjured he should have survived until rescuers arrived. It’s possible, therefore, that he was hit and knocked unconscious by floating debris.

6. (Walbridge) It seems clear that this was a flush-drowning, and that the group did everything they could.

 

Subject: Jim Traverso lost on the Sun Kosi, October 9 1999 From: malmros@shore.net (Mary Malmros) Date: Sun, 17 October 1999 03:25

Friends and fellow paddlers, I’m so very, very sorry to be bringing you this news. Our MVP Nepal trip met with tragedy on Saturday, October 9th, when Jim Traverso died on the Sun Kosi. Jim flipped and swam in the large exploding waves of Jaws, a class IV- rapid located sixteen kilometers below the confluence of the Dudh Kosi. Another kayaker, who was paddling near Jim, took Jim on his stern. With a third kayaker following, they continue through the rapid. Unfortunately, they were pushed left by the extremely strong current to a cliff wall that separates the main flow of the current from Dead Man’s Eddy, a huge and powerful circular eddy on river left. The rescuer carrying Jim hit the reaction wave off the cliff, squirted, and felt Jim fall off his back deck as he (the rescuer) flipped and was washed downstream with the main current. Jim must have washed into the eddy at this point. I had carried around the top part of the rapid (the only kayaker in our party to do so). I saw Jim flip and swim, but assumed that he was in no danger, with rescuers close by. With two other kayakers, I proceeded to ferry across to river right, opposite Dead Man’s Eddy. There we were told by raft guides that Jim was in the eddy. We got out and saw him, floating face down, not moving, and being carried around and around in the strong eddy current. We made all possible efforts to rescue him, including sending two strong kayakers into the eddy and ferrying the paddle raft across to the next downstream eddy so that rescuers could hike upstream to assist the kayakers, but we were unsuccessful. The kayakers did reach him in the eddy two or three times, but were unable to retain their hold on him, as the eddy current kept circulating them back into the eddy fence, an extremely turbulent boil filled with large debris. Two of our party were also on the cliff at downstream end of the eddy, preparing to climb down and attempt to snag Jim from the cliff. Jim was not moving or responsive at any time. After perhaps ten minutes, we saw that Jim had become separated from his PFD. He circled a few more times and then disappeared underwater. His body was not seen again and is presumed lost to the Sun Kosi. The rest of us are all right, at least physically. Needless to say it was a terrible thing, and we’re all very sad and shaken up. Word has been slow to get out because the accident happened in a very remote location, quite a distance from the nearest telephone. Jim’s family was notified on Tuesday the 12th, when we got back to Kathmandu. All the other MVPers—Beau Bannerman, David Livingston, Marjorie Woodwell, and Ken Glaeser—have departed for the States by now. I will be staying until next Wednesday to attend a puja for Jim, and then returning home ASAP. Any of his friends in the Kathmandu area would be most welcome to attend the puja, which is being held at the Seto Gompa on Tuesday—email me for details. There will also be a memorial service at some point in the future in the Boston area, but I have no details on that as yet. For anyone not able to attend either service, it would be a kindness if you were to remember Jim in your prayers, wherever and however it is that you call on the Creator. Jim had lived in Nepal for 12 years. He had many friends here and an adopted Nepali son, who is currently in college in the US. He had run many of Nepal’s rivers. This was his third descent of the Sun Kosi. He will be deeply missed by his family and many friends. A full report of the accident is lodged with NARA and the US Embassy. --

Mary Malmros Very Small Being malmros@shore.net “

It has been a very wet year in the mountains of Nepal. The Sun Kosi, a popular and frequently run 170 mile long river trip, was running very high at between 50,000 and 100,000 cfs. This level was high, but not unreasonable. Several rafting companies had recently completed successful runs. Jim Traverso, 44, was a very experienced kayaker who had lived and boated in Nepal for twelve years. He was making his third trip down this reach, leading a group from New England. According to a report by David Allerdice, a local outfitter, the accident occurred on October 9, on the sixth day of a nine-day trip. The group stopped and scouted Jaws, a hard Class IV rapid located just below the confluence of the Dudh Kosi. Below this rapid is "Dead Man’s Eddy", a powerful recirculating current capable of sucking ten foot logs under water at lower flows. It was decided that the kayakers who wished to run the drop would go first, then provide safety for the raft.

 

The group entered the rapid closely spaced. A woman, paddling second, flipped and was quickly rescued by the leader. Traverso, running third, rolled in a large hole, then capsized in the huge waves below. A following boater picked him up on his rear deck. Traverso, who was still holding onto his boat and paddle, did not assist his rescuer very much. This made the going slow, and they were quickly being carried towards "Dead Man’s Eddy". Suddenly a big pulse of water tore Traverso off the back deck of the rescue boat, sucked him under water, and pushed him into the eddy. His rescuer was pushed the other way, and was carried some distance downstream. Then the other kayakers in the party, after seeing the raft through "Jaws", made their way down They spotted Traverso floating face-down in "Dead Man’s Eddy". Two kayakers paddled deliberately into the eddy and attempted a rescue, but they were unable to grab Traverso or push him to shore. After about ten minutes the exhausted kayakers were forced to quit. Then, as shore based rescuers watched, Traverso’s life vest was torn from his body. He was pulled underwater and disappeared from view. His body was never recovered.

High flows don’t make the Sun Kosi High more technically difficult, but they do increase the consequences of a swim. Several members of Traverso’s kayaking team observed that it is not possible for a single boater to pull both a swimmer and his gear in water this big. Had Traverso simply let go of his boat, he probably would have been pulled to safety. They also speculated that Traverso may have inhaled water or been stricken by a catastrophic health problem.. It is also possible that Traverso was hit by a float debris and knocked unconscious. Those familiar with the river describe the eddy as an unpleasant and dangerous place, but feel that most swimmers in it would survive.

 

 

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