On November 5th Dan Dunlap, author of "World Whitewater", died during a rescue attempt on Ecuador's Pilaton River. Details are still sketchy. Dunlap, 46, apparently missed an eddy and washed over a 15' Class VI drop. He was found in waist deep water in a cave on river left. A rope was lowered to him, and he tied himself in at the waist. He died during the haul-up that followed. An autopsy reported that the cause of death was head injuries sustained during the swim.
Some people suggested that the haul-up itself might have caused the death. While this was clearly not true, suspending someone from a rope tied off at the waist can cause serious damage. The rope typically rides up under the victim's armpits, resulting in breathing difficulties and internal injuries. A young paddler was injured during a haul-up in Ernie's Canyon a year ago. At best it is a very uncomfortable way to go.
Vertical rescue skills are not often taught in the standard two-day river rescue class, but here is one concept worth remembering: use a sit harness to support people when raising or lowering them. When a rope is lowered to you, know how to tie yourself in correctly! You can construct a sit harness from rope or webbing pretty easily. Many of us wear a waist-loop which could be modified for this purpose, or you can cut up a throw line. Alternatively, you can buy a PFD with a built-in climbing harness, or take a lightweight climber's sit harness along.