Fatal Accident on the Middle Fork of the Tygart
Below Audra State Park West of Belington, WV
.5 miles upstream of the Tygart Confluence
February 9, 2020; River Level 4.2 feet: Classification: IV
Report by Zack France
On February 9, 2020 a group of 10 experienced kayakers met at Audra State Park to paddle the Middle Fork of the Tygart River. The run proceeded smoothly at first, with smiles and good lines all around. For a few members of the group it was a personal first decent, so the trip moved downstream with extra care. We successfully ran “Hungry Mother” and were approaching “Triple Drop” when the accident occurred. The rapid in between these drops is not difficult, but there is a large rock on river left that proved to be very undercut. I was following Jamie Gray when she flipped in the last part of this drop. We were running a center/right line, which is quite shallow and I was very concerned for a head injury. She attempted to roll and was pushed towards the left before she bailed out 10-15 feet upstream of the undercut rock. She and her boat hit the rock and disappeared at 1:15 pm.
Most of the group was in the bottom left eddy, ready to help. The boat came free quickly, but we did not see Jamie re-surface. Our group moved in quickly with ropes and a live bait PFD to search the front of the rock. Several kayakers remained downstream, below the rock, in case she flushed out. We used paddles, tree branches and ropes to probe the upstream face of the rock, trying to snag her in any way that we could. Jamie’s PFD washed out a few minutes after she disappeared. We continued probing and searching.
After about 30 minutes we decided to split the group, sending most of them to paddle downstream to get help. Steve Blades and I remained behind, probing the front of the rock with large tree branches and paddles without success . We started to get quite cold from being in the water and decided to take a break. To warm up, I hiked up the ridge to call for help. Once I had cell service, I dialed 911 and gave the dispatcher the coordinates of Jamie’s location before returning to the river. Steve and I kept trying to snag her, but we had no luck. The size of the rock and the speed of the current made it quite dangerous to get to the river-right side of the undercut. We tried every way possible to get as close and as far under the rock as we could.
After about 2 hours passed Steve and I knew that this was going to be a recovery, and that we needed to remain safe and stay warm until help arrived. We walked the banks to find the first responders; I also walked downstream to see if she had worked free and washed into the next rapid. It was about 4:15 pm when we made contact with the Bridgeport Fire Department and a Barbour County Sheriff. We described the situation to them and they tried to figure out a recovery plan.
Steve and I knew that it was going to be hours before their equipment arrived/ We decided to kayak the rest of the river before darkness fell. We made contact with the rest of the group and passed additional information to the Fire Department and the West Virginia DNR. The river rose 3 feet over the next 24 hours, and recovery efforts have been suspended until it drops.
UPDATE: Search for lost kayaker at Audra State Park called off until water levels drop
WDTV News Team
February 9th, 2020
BARBOUR COUNTY, W. Va. (WDTV) - The search and rescue mission for a missing kayaker at Audra State Park was temporarily halted just after 1 p.m. Monday. West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officials said they believe they know where the body of the woman is.
"We know that she is in a certain spot down [the Middle Fork River]. Because of the way that the water has risen, and we are predicting it to rise, we are waiting for the rain to stop," said Matthew Rodriguez, the investigating officer from the Department of Natural Resources.
Officials believe the body was likely caught underwater by a boulder. The search will continue when the water level drops back down. "We will continue as the weather permits. Once the water levels lower, then we will get back out there and see if we can get her," said Rodriguez. The victim is still not identified, but some in her kayak group of ten were trained in water recovery.
"In the ten that we know of, there was a few swift water rescue. They were certified in that. They did everything that they could to get her out of there," said Rodriguez. According to Belington fire department, the woman fell into the river after a kayaking accident Sunday.
According to a press release from the West Virginia Natural Resources Police, West Virginia State Police, and the Barbour County Sheriff's Department fire and rescue crews responded to a report of a kayaker who was swept under a rock and never surfaced on a remote section of the Middle Fork River in Barbour County.
The incident happened around 1:00 p.m. on February 9th. Crews made it to the scene but couldn't locate the kayaker. Darkness, the remote location, and water levels made recovery efforts difficult.
The search will resume tomorrow with Natural Resources Police conducting the investigation.
ORIGINAL STORY: 02/09/2020
According to Barbour County 9-1-1 multiple crews are responding to an incident at Audra State Park in Buckhannon. According to Belington fire department one woman fell into the river after a kayaking accident. She was with a group of 10 people. Crews have not yet located her. 5 News has a reporter at the scene. Stick with us for any updates.
Body of missing kayaker recovered Monday
February 17, 2020-
The body of a kayaker who had been missing for more than a
week was recovered on Monday. “The body of kayaker Jamie Lynn Gray was located
and recovered late this afternoon, about 1.5 miles downstream from where she
was last seen,” Lawrence Messina, communications director for the DNR and the
W.Va. Department of Military Affairs, said in an email Monday evening. “The
family has been notified,” Messina added. “Further information is expected
Gray, 41, of Hacker Valley, W.Va., had been missing since
her kayak overturned February 9
The recovery came a day after a large search and recovery
operation was launched on the Middle Fork River. “Aided by ropes and cables,
personnel were able to re-enter the stretch of the Middle Fork below Audra
State Park for the first time Sunday after rain and weather created hazardous
conditions at the scene,” Messina wrote Sunday night. “Some 83 rescue personnel
from multiple entities took part Sunday,” Messina said. “The searchers cleared
debris and deployed an underwater camera as part of their efforts.”
Sunday’s search centered on the area where Gray was last
seen by members of her kayaking group. “At around 1:53 p.m. [on Feb. 9] while
about one half-mile below Audra State Park, Gray’s kayak capsized and she was
swept downstream,” Messina said in a previous email. “A short distance from
where she capsized, Gray was swept under a large rock in the river and never
resurfaced. Members of her group attempted to reach where she was last seen,
but were unsuccessful.”
The experienced group of about 10 kayakers were boating
down river from Audra State Park, toward where the Middle Fork meets the Tygart
River. Gray’s kayak and life jacket were recovered downriver. The river, which
was closed over the weekend as crews searched for Gray, reopened Sunday, Feb.
Sunday’s large operation followed a week of on-and-off
search efforts that were hampered by rain, snow and high water. In the hours
after Gray was reported missing on Feb. 9, search and rescue crews cut a path
through rugged terrain to reach the area where Gray was last seen, but were
unable to locate her.
The following day, “DNR Police, State Police and other
personnel trained in water rescue and recovery returned to the area,” Messina
said. “Over the course of that day, they encountered worsening weather
including heavy rains that caused the river levels to rise. Conditions in that
stretch of the Middle Fork became too dangerous for rescue personnel, while
shoreline searches were also conducted.”
According to U.S. Geological Survey data, the river gauge
at Audra registered about 4.3 feet at the time of the accident. While that is
higher than normal, it is within the American Whitewater recommended flow range
of 3.2-6.0 feet for that section of the Middle Fork River, which includes Class
III and IV rapids, or intermediate to advanced.
By Tuesday, Feb. 11, the river level had risen to nearly 9
feet, according to Messina, which prevented personnel from entering the water. “The
W.Va. Division of Forestry and the Marion and Monongalia County offices of
Emergency Services have offered assistance including multiple drone aircraft
and pilots to search the area and downstream from where the incident occurred,”
Chris Evans, who works for the DNR, says she was found on shore before s-turn, about a half mile below the middle fork confluence. I think she came out late Tuesday and ended up there by Wednesday. She was only a few feet out of the water
From Facebook: WVDNR Police - The West Virginia Natural Resources Police have spent the last week working with numerous other agencies and volunteers to find a drowning victim on the Middle Fork River in Barbour County. Jamie Lynn Gray, of Webster County, was kayaking with nine other avid kayakers on February 9th when she was swept underneath a rock in a remote section of the Middle Fork River. The rugged terrain, combined with unique features of this section of river and high water levels, made the recovery very difficult.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped with this recovery operation. We are working with our partners on this incident to compile a list of those who provided help and support. While we hope that incidents like this never happen and work to try to prevent them, we realize that they can and do occur and it is always good to know that interagency cooperation and community support is something that will kick in and make things go smoothly.
Throughout the eight days of this operation, Officers worked to search both the location of Mrs. Gray’s initial disappearance, and the Middle Fork and Tygart Rivers downstream of that location. At the rock where she initially disappeared, underwater cameras operated on poles from around the rock were employed, and ultimately they were able to determine that she was no longer there. During that process, large winches were used to remove large logs and other debris from underneath the rock.
Downstream searches consisted of everything from boots on the ground bank searches, to riding rail trucks searching stream banks, to using drones. Once the water levels became optimal for safe kayaking, and the equipment at the rock was safely removed, the river was re-opened. A group of kayakers coordinated their trip with Natural Resources Police and formulated a plan on how to contact Officers if they located anything, given the remote location. This ultimately led to the discovery of Mrs. Gray’s lifejacket, and her body was then located a little further downstream. It appears that Mrs. Gray’s body had flushed from the rock during the high water that occurred midweek, and she was located about a mile and a half from the point of her disappearance.
Once again, the Natural Resources Police involved in this incident want to thank the community, the avid kayakers, the volunteers, and the numerous agencies that all came together to help during this difficult time. We would also like to express our sincerest condolences to Mrs. Gray’s family.