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Accident Description


CANOEIST DROWNS IN UNDERCUT ROCK


Lower Tellico River near Tellico Plains, TN: July 29, 1989


Volume 175 cfs (low); Classification II

SUMMARY: On Saturday, July 29, 1989 a three-boat party put on the Lower Tellico River at extremely low water. At Reader's Rock Rapid, Kevin Huff got shoved underneath the rock and pinned fast. Despite the best efforts of his companions, rescue was not quick enough, and the victim could not be revived.

DESCRIPTION: The Lower Tellico River is a family float trip, consisting mostly of Class I-II rapids. The group paddled the first five miles without incident; everyone was comfortable with the river. They stopped to discuss "Readers Rock", an innocent-looking rapid  marked by a "KEEP RIGHT" sign nailed to a tree on river left. This sign warns of an extremely undercut rock on the left bank. Above 600 cfs, it is covered over. At 350 cfs, the drop should be scouted and run with care. At under 350, the river tends to channel unwary boaters right into the rock. This had been the site of many narrow escapes, and walking is advised.

Huff missed his line when running the drop, presumably deflected by a small rock in the shallow approach. He slid sideways into the rock and disappeared; only a small piece of his boat and his hand remained visible. One member of the group got out on the rock and grabbed Kevin's arm, trying to pull him loose. When he lost his grip, he used a knife to slash one of Kevin's air bags. The boat shifted and he floated free; he was under water about five minutes. His companions got him to a midstream rock and began CPR. Help was summoned, but to no avail. Life support was continued to Sweetwater Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The victim's lungs apparently filled with water, causing irreversable complications.

SOURCE: Georgia Canoe Association September, 1989 newsletter

ANALYSIS:

1) The victim's canoe was probably held in place by it's buoyancy. Cutting the air bag allowed the boat to shift and turn, releasing it's hold on the victim. A very smart move! The boat was outfitted with a Perception Saddle with no toe blocks; it shifted but did not collapse. This does not appear to have been a factor in the pinning.

2) This is clearly a serious drop. It's not mentioned in guidebooks, and is particularly dangerous on such a relaxing stretch of river. It's hard even for strong paddlers to get "up" for such a drop and it would probably be wise to portage at low flows. If not, rescuers stationed ON THE ROCK are a good idea.

3) The group reacted quickly. While one was pulling on the arm and slashing the air bags, the other was setting up a Z-Drag. They got Huff out quickly and continued CPR until help arrived.

CONCLUSIONS:

W

hile high water and gradient often indicate difficulty, low water can add danger by exposing undercut rocks and reducing a paddler's options. In some places the water will clearly take paddlers where they don't want to go. Rapids like this deserve the utmost respect, even from experienced parties.