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 dropWVDN
By WDTV News Team |
Posted: Sun 5:13 PM, Feb 09, 2020
Updated: Mon 6:09 PM, Feb 10, 2020
BARBOUR COUNTY, W. Va. (WDTV) - UPDATE 02/10/2020 @ 2:24 p.m.
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.