Accident Database

Report ID# 756

  • Swim into Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • Failed Rescue

Accident Description

On Nov 3  the Cheat River Canyon in Albright, WV was running at moderate levels following recent rains. Robert Forney, 42, was making his sixth trip down the river with five other boaters from the Washington area. The Albright Bridge gauge was at a perfect 3 foot level. The group had a great day until they arrived at Pete Morgan Rapid, the last Class IV on the river.

According to Lee Thonus, who remained for the entire rescue and wrote an excellent accident report, the first three boaters ran the drop without incident. Mr. Forney, paddling a sporty OC-1 playboat, entered the rapid too far right and flipped on a deep brace in a small hydraulic. He was not in his boat when it washed out at the bottom of the drop. The group searched the area until dusk without finding any sign of him. They noted that a large tree was lodged in the far right side of the drop.  They suspected that Mr. Forney might be trapped there, but a local rafter paddled out, examined it closely, and saw no sign of him. They finished the run and contacted authorities early that evening.

The next day the river had dropped 6” when Mr. Thonus and Masontown Volunteer Firefighters returned to search the rapid. They spotted Mr. Forney’s body pinned against the tree, but despite help from a few local paddlers who were on the river that day they were unable to retrieve him. That night a group of area boaters consulted with rescue teams and mobilized for a larger effort.

The next day the water dropped another 6”. JB Sea, Eric Hendricson, and Bob Spangler found Mr. Forney pinned between the log and an underwater rock. They managed to move the log and release Mr. Forney’s body so that it could be picked up by local rafters and carried to the takeout.


RC Forney, an open boater from Arlington, VA, died while paddling the Cheat on Nov. 3, 2005. Running Pete Morgan rapid, he got off-line to the right, into an area with hazardous boulders and complex water features. After he swam, his companions unsuccessfully searched for him. On Nov. 5, 2005, his body was found and removed. As those who were on the scene had speculated, he had been snagged by a large log in the right side of the rapid.

Posted by Dick Pierce on November 04, 2005 at 10:13:24:

It is my sad duty to report that RC Forney died yesterday at Pete Morgan rapid on the cheat river. RC was paddling an open boat. The level was 3 feet.

RC was having a very good day. He had just declined an opportunity to sneak upper colliseum and had run a perfect line through the meat of that difficult rapid. As he approached the entrance to Pete Morgan, he was off-line to the right. He hit the hole above the large rock on the right side of the entrance and then was swept sideways into that rock. He flipped and came out of the right side of his boat into the violent rectangle of water created by the four boulders that are just to the right of the standard line. His boat came down the rapid quickly, but we never saw RC after he came out of his boat at the top right of the rapid. We chased and flipped his boat upright in the hope that he was under it, but he was not.

We went up the rocks on the left side and searched for him from every spot we could reach. When we started to look for him, we realized for the first time that there was a large tree parallel to the standard line and about 2 feet to the right. The tree is wedged into the severely undercut left side of the large rock on the right side of the entrance and into the other large rock at the bottom right of the rapid. We also searched by boat from the bottom of the rapid and from the top of the cliff on the right side of the river. Two local paddlers came down the river and joined the search, to no avail. The West Virginia state police sent an infrared equipped helicopter to the scene last night, and the state police and local rescue squad are conducting a thorough search today.

The other participants in this tragic trip were Lee Thonus, Cahil Converse, Terry Irani, and Gisela Zarcusky. Lee is assisting with the body recovery effort today. RC left behind his wife, Dana, and 2 children, aged 4 years and 10 months. I will miss RC a lot. He was a wonderful person.

Many paddlers view the Cheat as an easy playground. This accident, as well as others that have occurred at Pete Morgan and other rapids on the Cheat, is a reminder that the Cheat is full of hazards.


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