Accident Database

Report ID# 702

  • Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

California's North Fork of the Yuba was the scene of a second fatal encounter with a hidden strainer. On May 7 David Ranson, described as a "solid class V paddler" by those who knew him, was paddling the Union Flat to Goodyear's Bar section with four other boaters. John Jerger, who was in his group, reported what happened: Soon after putting in, the group reached a steep Class III gravel bar rapid. As he ran down, Jerger noticed what he thought was a pointy, barely submerged rock in a wave train but missed it easily. As he looked back upstream he saw that Ranson, 34, was caught on something in midstream. Everyone rushed back upstream to help. Ranson was pinned perpendicular to the current on a hidden obstacle, with the bottom of the boat facing upriver. He'd lost his paddle, but seemed to be alert and relatively stable. The group got a line to him, and tried pulling from several different directions without success.

They sent someone up to Highway 49 to get help. Then they tried wading out to him, but the water was too deep and fast. By now, Ranson's strength was failing. The relentless force of the icy water was pivoting his kayak downstream. As the boat pivoted, it sank. Ranson let go of the first rope. A second one was thrown to him, but he could not hold on and slumped under water.

The group set up a snag line and worked it until rescuers arrived on the scene. A large, well-trained crew set up a 5:1 mechanical advantage, but the snag line couldn't budge the boat. They pulled from several directions of before quitting for the night. The next day more men and gear arrived. They set up a raft lower using a small shredder-style cataraft and were able to place the boat right above Ranson. Photos sent with the police report by David's wife, Susan, show the men working in a powerful Class III wave train. They determined that Ranson's kayak was pinned on a protruding branch on a log. A broken branch stub had gone through the sprayskirt, entered the cockpit, and wedged between his legs. Recovery took several hours. Given the unusual nature of the pin and the forces involved it's doubtful that any known rescue technique would have saved him.

These latter two strainers fall under the heading of "objective danger" - a term used by mountaineers to describe unseen or unpredictable hazards like avalanches or rockfall. These are always a factor in outdoor sports. There is also an element of good or bad luck involved, as is shown by the next report.


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