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Accident Description


Slippery Rock Creek, a popular destination for intermediate kayakers in Western Pennsylvania, was the scene of a tragic triple fatality on April 8th. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Neil Balcer, 23, met his death while running the Class II lower stretch of Slippery Rock below Eckart Bridge. Balcer, a novice paddler, spotted a downed tree just above the Harris Bridge takeout. He flipped while taking evasive action and made several roll attempts before washing into the strainer. He became solidly pinned about 20 feet from shore. His PFD and helmet washed off and were recovered in an eddy below. Boaters in the vicinity rushed to the scene, but there was nothing they could do.

When firefighters arrived, paddlers told them that Balcer had been underwater for 45 minutes and was clearly dead. They suggested that they use a chain saw to cut the downed tree loose from shore. But the dive team from the Unionville Volunteer Fire Department had another plan They elected to have two men approach the strainer from upstream. Lines from shore were tied to static harnesses (which have no quick release), a procedure which has resulted in many firefighter deaths nationwide. In addition, the two men were connected by an additional line which created a serious snag hazard. Minutes later something went terribly wrong. It's not clear if the pair lost their footing or something became snagged, but the ropes pulled Anthony Murdick 25, and Scott Wilson, 25, under water. Both men, married with young children, were killed. A few minutes later the ropes were ordered cut, but by then it was too late. The pair were dead when they washed ashore below Harris Bridge.

The next day firefighters cut the downed tree at the shoreline, allowing Balcer and his kayak to wash free. This incident teaches us the importance of swiftwater rescue training, and that we shouldn't unnecessary risks to recover a person who is already dead.