Accident Database

Report ID# 766

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • High Water
  • Inexperience
  • Solo Paddling

Accident Description

Off-duty firefighter Rob Horne drowned while running the upper section of Barton Creek in Austin, Texas on July 3, 2002.  Mr. Horne was a 14 1/2 year veteran of the Austin Fire Department and a member of the swift water rescue team.  Mr. Horne's body was found at approximately 5 PM on the day of the accident, near or below Sculpture Falls.  He was wearing both a helmet and a PFD. 

Reports from other whitewater boaters who knew the victim and were on the river at or near the time of the accident assert that Mr. Horne showed up alone at the Lost Creek put-in and that he may have joined a group of paddlers and subsequently become separated from the group due to confusion regarding whether he was paddling with that group or another group.  It is assumed that he became stuck in the river right hydraulic on the low-head dam at the base of the Hill of Life (which some paddlers now refer to as "Horne's Falls"), because that is the only potentially deadly feature on the river at 3000-4000 cfs between the put-in and the point at which his body and boat were recovered.  Mr. Horne was reportedly a student of whitewater kayaking at the time of the accident, so his experience level with this type of whitewater is unknown and may not have been great.  As of this writing, the dam is generally considered, in a broad sense, to be a Class IV+ feature at 3000-4000 cfs, but as with many other low-head dams with chutes, this one could also be described as a "Class II-III line with Class V consequences."  If Horne did in fact drown in the river right hydraulic at the low-head dam, then that points to a possible lack of general river knowledge (such as how to read a horizon line from upstream and to "scout if in doubt") and a probable lack of specific knowledge regarding this stretch of river (such as the location of the chute line and the potential deadly nature of the dam.)  Both factors were compounded by solo paddling, higher-than-normal flows, and an extremely retentive and unbroken hydraulic typical of low-head dams.  Horne was reportedly using appropriate whitewater equipment, including a Riot kayak, a helmet, and a PFD, although the size of the boat is unknown and may have also been a factor (smaller boats cannot escape from hydraulics as easily.)  Both his body and boat were found a significant distance downstream.  The accident reportedly occurred in the early afternoon, which is consistent with a flow between 3000 and 4000 cfs (the river peaked at 4510 cfs between 5:25 and 5:30 PM, per USGS.)


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