NOVICE KAYAKER DROWNS ON SALMON RIVER
Lower Section near Pulaski, NY: March 19, 1990
Volume: Near flood. Classification: III+
DESCRIPTION: On sunday, March 19 five kayakers met to run the Salmon River, a popular class II-III novice run which was running bank-full due to recent rains and snowmelt. The victim, Dean Middleditch, 25, had done some kayaking in England but had never been in fast moving water.
The group ran the river once, taking out at Black Hole. They ran to the right of a large island, avoiding the site of the accident. On their second, shorter run from the "Fairgrounds" down they chose the other channel. The right bank is badly eroded, and the exposed tree roots have snagged considerable debris. It is a known danger spot; several years previously a boy scout who had overturned his canoe was rescued by a local kayaker who lives near the river.
Middleditch was the last to run the channel. He flipped, failed to roll, and exited. He was swimming with his boat when he was swept under a tree. He never came up.
Since the rapid is in the town of Pulaski, rescue personnel were summoned quickly. Niagara Mohawk turned off an upstream dam, and two hours later the water began to recede. The body was recovered several hours later; the victim's life vest had apparently snagged on a branch.
After assisting in the rescue, the State Police ordered surviving paddlers to get to their cars. The group headed downstream, but one member of the party flipped and swam twice. Helicopter personnel, who had already landed, graciously ferried her across the river.
March 19 is late winter in northwest New York; weather and water conditions were quite unfavorable. Given the extreme conditions, Middleditch was taking considerable risks that day. He would have been well-advised to wait for better water and weather. The group should have also considered staying away from the fatal right channel, which has little to recommend it.
The decision of the State Police to order the paddlers to proceed downstream by boat was not a good one. When a member of a boating party has been drowned his fatigued and distressed companions cannot be expected to perform well. It's usually a good idea to walk out whenever possible.