Accident Database

Report ID# 642

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

Northern California's Trinity River is a beautiful stretch of Class III whitewater. Davis Steinhauser of Trinity River Rafting reported via email that local resident Wendy Ellis was killed while the river in front of her house in a canoe. She and her husband owned 80 acres of land on the opposite shore and were attempting to start a winery there. Both had considerable experience on the river and sometimes made dozens of crossings in a day. Her husband Don had been a river guide for a local outfitter, and his son was an avid kayaker. Wendy was the least comfortable with the river, but had made the trip many times.

Normal summer flow in the Trinity is 800-1200 cfs, but on April 18th rains had raised the level to over 6,000 cfs. On that day the couple attempted to cross the river in a newly purchased canoe. This boat was larger than the one they had been using. It was not designed for whitewater or outfitted with air bags. They took the 13-year-old daughter of a close friend along. The weather was overcast, and the temperature was in the high 40's. Everyone wore hiking boots and heavy clothing, but, unfortunately, no PFD?s. Wendy was carrying a 44 magnum revolver.

The river surged and swamped the canoe, throwing them into the water. Don yelled for everyone to hold on to the boat, and tried to swim it to shore. But the canoe quickly became unmanageable and they washed into a Class II rapid. They then floated into the next rapid, hit a hole, and became separated. Don made it to shore exhausted near the Big Flat River Access; the young girl also washed ashore nearby. Wendy was last seen floating face down in the river. Her body was never found.

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