WOMAN DROWNS IN MACHIAS RIVER
Near Ellsworth, Maine; June 1989
River Difficulty: Class II-III
DESCRIPTION A 24-year-old Waterville woman drowned when her canoe capsized on the Machias River, pinning her legs under the seat as the force of the water bent the canoe in half. Warden Neal Wykes of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said that the victim, Sherry Lee Gilbert, was kneeling in the bow of the canoe when the accident occurred at the foot of Carrot Pitch at approximately 2:30 p.m.
Gilbert was one of six women who set out Sunday morning on what was to be a six-day canoe trip from First Machias Lake down to Whitneyville. When the canoeists reached Carrot Pitch, four of the women elected to portage the rapids because high water and a swift current.
But Gilbert and a friend, Karen Marysdaughter, decided to run the rapids which Marysdaughter had run on a previous trip.
They were almost out of the rapids when they got out of the channel they were in and hit a rock. This turned the canoe sideways and capsized it. As the canoe filled with water it bent around the rock. The victim's legs were caught between the floor of the canoe, which buckled and the thwart. The force of the water shoved her under the canoe. She apparently never broke the surface after the pinning.
Wykes said that her partner attempted to free Gilbert but was swept away by the current. Another woman tried to get to the canoe from shore, but wasn't able to get near it because of the power of the water.
Two of the women started for help and were picked up by a fisherman, who took them to the Cloud Nine Motel in Wesley. Wykes, Wardens Philip White of Cherryfield and David Craven of East Machias, and Warden Sgt. Michael Marshall of Princeton responded to the call. Wykes said that the four men took 45 minutes to break the thwart and extricate Gilbert, but the canoe was wrapped so tightly around the rock that they were forced to leave it until the water level dropped.
Wykes said that the tragedy was a freak accident, because most people are thrown out of a canoe when it capsizes in rapids.
The Ellsworth (ME) American
ANALYSIS: While I agree with the freakish nature of the pin, I suspect that additional flotation inside the open canoe could have made the pin less severe and rescue possible. (CW)