Accident Database

Report ID# 627

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Asthma Attack
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

Comments: This is my recollection of the accident and I am sure that the other people involved have the ability to piece more of it together. But in the hopes that this type of accident can be prevented, I am writing what I remember. I meet four of my friends from Boone at the take out and we left my truck there and traveled to the put in together. When we reached the put in we meet a rafting group from Blowing Rock. The group included some people that we knew. There were 2 rafts and 3 kayaks in the group. We knew 2 of the 3 people kayaking. It was then that we were introduced to the Chris. He said that some of our party looked familiar and that he had worked for another whitewater outfit in Boone. He was going to work with this one for the up and coming season. It was very chilly and temperature seemed to be dropping.

We all started at the same time, which was fine because we knew so many of the other group. Chris missed a roll early in the run and swam. I tried to suggest some improvements on his technique. I was brushed aside and told that his shoulder was bothering him from some other time. Another member of the party made a suggestion to him that he stop now and walk back while he was close, if his shoulder was giving him trouble. The Nolichucky is a very long run and the strong winds blowing up the gorge would not have helped his shoulder. This suggestion was quickly dismissed and we continued on. The next rapid was the first class IV. It can cause inexperienced paddlers to show themselves quickly. Chris did fine. The next rapid is a play spot known as Jaws. Chris did fine here to and even challenged the meat of the hole.

All the kayaks stopped as some played and others watched. The rafts decided to continue on, this was probably due to the weather because it was cold I'm sure that the guest were cold. The three kayaks stayed. I did not think anymore of Chris's ability after those two rapids. We spread out through the next series of rapids but stopped to regroup above the next big rapid known as Quarter Mile. A member of our original foursome had forgotten to put his drain plug in, so he and another member stopped for minute. I stopped to wait for them and to regroup. While we were waiting the another member of the our foursome decided to take an easier route that would avoid the first two ledges in Quarter Mile.

Meanwhile, the other three joined me in the eddy and we discussed the river level. I then asked Chris how familiar he was with the river. He told me that he had run the river a couple dozen times, but this was the biggest he had seen it and dismissed me. I decided that he must have been comfortable because he did not accept my help and he decided not to take the easier right line. By this time the two had caught up with us and I was eager to be off, so I went first. I eddied after the second ledge and made a quick check upstream. Then I checked to see how my friend on the easier line was fairing. Everything looked good.

The next ledge is called Hungry Jack and it can start getting mean at higher flows. I avoided the middle of the hole and hit the right side of the hole. I quickly eddied out to the right in a position to help anyone with a potential problem. The group came through fine, some chose to skirt the hole and some to hit it. Chris chose to hit the center, but the Overflow that he was in punched through fine. I thought to myself that my playboat would have surely been munched if I had done that, but after everyone passed I proceeded to join one of the other group on the opposite bank to try and catch a boof. This is the last I saw of Chris.

We both tried to boof opposite sides of the rock and I went last. (This group of rocks blocks all the downstream view.) There was a group of our party eddied to the right just below the boof and we passed them and proceeded toward Murphy's Ledge. The person in front of me suddenly stopped and said "where is Chris?" I quickly looked upstream and thought to myself surely he wouldn't continue on by himself. But I did not see him. We both looked downstream and then saw his boat upside down, maybe 50 yards below Murphy's Ledge. We signaled the others and quickly took a far left line around Murphy's Ledge and I didn't see him in the hydraulic or downstream. As we came out of the backwash we then realized that he wasn't downstream. I immediately turned back towards the hole and saw his helmet come over the surface and quickly disappear again. I was on river right and he was in the left of the center side.

We all reacted immediately. Only two of us were on river right and the rest on river left. As he appeared again the first rope hit him perfectly, but there was no reaction. He disappeared again. He would stay under for approximately 10-20 seconds maybe longer. But I knew that he was under the whole time that I went around the ledge, which could have been closer to 30 seconds. The ledge is undercut. I had never seen anyone run that part of the ledge.

Suddenly, after maybe 3 or 4 minutes. He flushed out and was hit with ropes. One even floated on top of him, but he didn't respond. He was then captured by a person in a kayak who wet exited his boat and I reached them next in my boat and tried to tow them ashore. Meanwhile another person set up to retrieve them from river right. We quickly got the rope to the rescue swimmer and as he was being pulled to shore, I wet exited close to shore to help get Chris to the beach. There were then four of us on the bank and we immediately examined Chris, cleared his airway and started CPR. Two boaters raced downstream for help. We got no response from Chris. The time of arrival on the beach was approximately 12:00pm.

We continued CPR and sent another person across the river to climb up on the tracks and go upstream for help. We knew that he had to be evacuated as fast as possible to have a chance. This left three of us to continue CPR and continue to check for a pulse. After a few minutes, maybe fifteen, we repositioned Chris to help him drain his lungs and to continue CPR. In about 30 minutes a raft guide with a radio appeared on the tracks and said that a rescue vehicle would meet us at the put in. He had also arranged for a train to meet us on that side of the river and transport him out. In the mean time, three other paddlers in kayaks saw our situation and immediately rushed to our aid. They helped relieve some CPR, but the three of us were determined not to let him go, so we kept on.

I cannot say for sure how the rest happened, but someone went upstream and brought us a backboard. The river guide had managed to have a raft brought up the tracks, with assistance from the two from our party that went downstream. We strapped Chris to the backboard and then put him into the raft. We never stopped the CPR. I don't remember the trip across the river only that we were there and I continued to stay focused to my task. By this time we had a large crowd to help get him to the tracks. This was not easy because of the steepness of the hill, and the fact that it was gravel. I do remember one man in particular who seemed to take control of the situation and organize the move up to the tracks. We immediately started CPR again and the train was suddenly there. We then lifted him to the front of the train and the two that had been with me the whole time climbed on and continued CPR.

We never stopped the CPR nor gave up. It took almost a full hour to get Chris across the river and onto the train. I was exhausted and had to figure out how to get our equipment out of the gorge. The three guys who had helped us with the CPR helped me get the boats up to the tracks. One guy on the way to hospital had come to the river in our foursome and the other with Chris. The other two guys in our foursome were as upset as me and decided not to continue.

A CSX truck came along. At first he didn't want to help me because he said it was against company policy. But after I told him this story, he helped me to load the boats and took me to the put in. I quickly tied the boats on and went to the hospital where the doctors were still trying to save Chris. I don't know how long it took me to reach the hospital, I was on the tracks a long time. Shortly after I arrived at the hospital, maybe 20 minutes, the doctor told us he wasn't able to save him. He never responded to anything.

Later when we all collected at the take out and sorted through our gear, we discovered Chris's lifejacket had an inhaler attached. I never saw it before nor did I see him use it, but it surely couldn't have helped the situation. Chris was wearing all of his gear when we got him from the water. There were no scratches or dents in his helmet, nor were there any open wounds or obvious bruises on his exposed body. We left his clothes on him because of the cold temperature. We never got a response to the CPR, but we never gave up.

Subject: Re: A great Loss From: JEFF KATTNER Date: Sun, Apr 9, 2000 09:04 EDT Message-id: <>>

Sven Brouwer wrote: > > I'm sorry about your friend. Would you be able to give more details of what > happened so others can learn from it. > > Again, my condolences I was not on the river with him but from what I was told he was out there with five other people and they were eddie hopping in Quarter Mile and He paddled on past everyone towards Murphes Ledge and flipped over as he went over the middle of the drop. They were all just grouping up bellow Copper Rock when they saw what happed. They all Tried to get to him as fast as they could. The first person that got there went to his boat to see that he was not with it. The next person then saw him still it the hole and they all started trying to get him out. It is sad and I hope that we all Learn something from this, I dont know want but something. He should have stayed with the group that he was going down with. I know that when going throw there you never want to have so much distance between boats and safties.>

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