Accident Database

Report ID# 639

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water
  • Inadequate Equipment
  • Inexperience
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

Cattaragus Creek, a popular run near Gowanda in Western New York State, rose from 1,000 to 9,000 cfs (over 9 feet) on April 7. Sudden rises in river flow, known as storm surges, have been linked to accidents in previous years Local boater Craig Mavis reported that the river rose 3 feet in just an hour and a half! Kevin Suleweski aborted a planned trip to the area as the extent of the storm surge became clear from weather and water sites on the internet. While strong, well equipped local paddlers ran the river successfully, long time outfitter Jim Redline of Zoar Valley Outdoors cancelled his trips. It was clear that the river was not suitable for casual paddlers.
The river was running about 5.5 feet when AW director Bob Glanville launched on the South Branch. Arriving at the Main Branch, he and his group encountered a loose raft. After searching for its owners, he tied it to a tree and continued downstream. About two miles below here he encountered a group of rafters on shore. They had a new, commercial - quality raft, but no life vests or wetsuits. They said that the raft ahead of them had flipped in a hydraulic, spilling four men into the creek. They were able to chase down two of them, but the others disappeared downstream and were still missing.



By Jay Rey


Apr 9, 2000 

Two men are still missing after their raft capsized Saturday afternoon amid the rapids of Cattaraugus Creek in Zoar Valley. Missing are Daniel Zelasko, 48, of Cheektowaga, and John Tenz, 57, of Blasdell, Erie County Sheriff's Department officials said late Saturday. 

Search teams still were positioned at spots along the creek Saturday evening in hopes of finding the two men, but poor weather and treacherous creek currents prevented crews from entering the water, officials said. "It was too rough for any watercraft, including our own specialized water vessels," said Lt. Thomas N. Graziani, a patrol watch commander at the department's Orchard Park headquarters. 

The search was called off at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, but it is expected to resume again at dawn.The two men were among a group of eight people rafting on Cattaraugus Creek Saturday. Four were in one craft and four were in another. Zelasko and Tenz were in the raft that capsized sometime after noon Saturday in an area known as the Valentine Flats, which is about two miles west of South Quaker Road in the Town of Collins, Graziani said. 

The people in the other craft rescued two of the men from the water, as Zelasko and Tenz floated down the creek, Graziani said. Zelasko and Tenz were last overheard telling each other to just stay above the water and ride the rapids, according to reports. 

"That's the last anyone has seen of them," Graziani said. "It's our understanding neither were wearing wet suits or life preservers." The rest of the group made it to shore and walked to a nearby farm house, where they telephoned the Sheriff's Department for help at about 12:52 p.m., Graziani said. The sheriff's helicopter was dispatched and flew over Cattaraugus Creek for about an hour in search of the two men. The heavy rain finally forced the pilot to land, Graziani said. 

The Sheriff's Department also brought divers to the scene, but the swift water prevented them from searching the creek, Graziani said.


Glanville suggested that the group deflate their raft and seek help from a nearby farmhouse. He then continued downstream but found no one. That evening John Tenz, 57, and Daniel Zalasko, 48 were still missing. Authorities began a massive search for the pair on air and land. Glanville made a dawn run the next day but found nothing. The bodies were recovered, days later and many miles downstream.  

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