Accident Database

Report ID# 782

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • Solo Paddling

Accident Description

On May 9 Denise Stone, 43, was found dead in Hinkson Creek, a small, urban stream in Columbia, Missouri. According to the Missouri Whitewater message board, she was a former lifeguard, an active triathelete, and very fit. She had recently taken basic kayak instruction through the club and was very excited about the sport.

All the rivers in the area were running that day, but she couldn't find a paddling partner. She called an experienced friend who suggested that she work on eddy turns and ferries in the fast moving water at Capen Park. He did not expect her to run any real whitewater alone. Unfortunately, she put in there and continued downstream alone for some distance.

Two miles downstream Stone was seen above a flooded low water bridge. She seemed happy and confident, but was not wearing a helmet. AW board member Chris Kelly notes that at this level a "vicious bank-to-bank hole" develops here. She was later seen out of her boat, floating face down in the hole. She probably flipped while running the drop, hit her head, and lost consciousness. Firefighters were called to the scene and recovered her body a short distance downstream.Columbia MO - I got this from the Missouri Whitewater Message Board from someone who new her, not me:

Beginning kayaker Denise Stone, 43, drowned in an accident on Hinkson Creek in Columbia yesterday.

Denise is a long-time friend whom I had lost touch with for years until we ran into each other at D-bridge on the weekend of the MWA whitewater clinic. She was living in Columbia, had taken the clinic and was excited about kayaking. Denise was a strong swimmer and a former lifeguard, and in recent years had taken up adventure sports such as mountain-climbing and skiing. She had also participated in triathlons. We talked at the Saint about all the paddling opportunities that Boone County creeks offer, and she was enthusiastic about joining us on local trips to improve her skills.

Denise called me at work yesterday between 3:30 and 4 p.m. and inquired about the wisdom of putting in at the Eastgate bridge just downstream of Broadway. She wanted to know whether she should do it, how long it would take to get to a takeout and what kind of water she should expect. I told her in no uncertain terms that putting in at Eastgate would not be a smart thing to do, especially alone, even given that the creek had dropped steadily all day to a reported level of about 1 foot at 5 p.m. I warned her of pipeline-wave hydraulics, tricky currents and the jumbles of concrete, rebar and other debris in the creek, both above and beneath the surface of the water.

Denise seemed to accept that advice but said she was desperate to get her boat on some moving water somewhere. I told her I was sorry I couldn't join her because of too much work and stuff to do at home. Then I suggested she consider putting in at Capen Park--one or two creek miles below Eastgate--where the current is easy and there are plenty of eddies but no significant obstacles or waves. There she could practice her eddies and ferries and work down the creek and around a bend, staying in the park for the entire mini-run, which I would estimate at no more than 250 or 300 yards. Then she could take out and do it again if she wanted. It seemed a reasonable and safe suggestion even for a beginner, we both agreed, because the water is quite shallow and mellow. We then exchanged phone numbers and talked about paddling together on a Friday morning sometime soon. I left her with a last reminder that it would be bad idea to put in at Eastgate and attempt that section of the creek alone.

It seems Denise took that advice, because her car was found at Capen Park. University Police have said a witness reported talking with Denise on shore right at the low-water crossing in Hinkson Creek Recreation Area, which is between one and two creek miles downstream of Capen Park. This is obviously far further than I advised she should go. Another officer has told me that the witness reported Denise seemed confident and was enjoying herself, but she was wondering aloud whether she should go any further. This conversation occurred around 5:30 p.m. The witness reported she did not see a helmet. Denise and the witness soon parted ways.

For those unfamiliar with the low-water crossing, it is a concrete bridge that at least on the downstream side is clogged with broken concrete, rebar, bricks and other debris. The approach is a smooth horizon line. Culverts that run beneath the crossing create powerful jets below the bridge and make the current squirrelly. All this combines with the steep and uniform drop to produce a powerful hydraulic. I have portaged around this bridge on all but one occasion. It's been too long since I saw the crossing at 1 foot, however, for me to try to describe exactly what it might have looked like yesterday. I did not discuss this hazard with Denise because it was so far downstream from the park where I thought we'd agree she would paddle.

What happened after Denise talked with the witness is anybody's guess, but her body was first reported by another witness to be caught in the hydraulic on the downstream side of the same crossing. She was not in her boat. By the time she was pulled from the water, by firefighters I believe, she was further downstream, near Reactor Park. She was wearing a lifejacket, one glove, no shoes and no helmet. She had a large knot on her forehead, according to police and her parents. No one knows for sure whether she was wearing a helmet before her accident. Neither a helmet nor her paddle has been found. The boat, a kayak about 7 feet long, was found submerged near a trail footbridge west of Providence Road.

It's impossible to say exactly how Denise wound up in the hole at the crossing. No one knows for sure whether she ran the bridge rapid or put in below it and got sucked in. And no one knows how she came out of her boat or how her head wound might have contributed to her drowning. It's probably useless to speculate.

This obviously is a tough one to take, for all of us. While Denise and I were not close friends, we were gearing up to get re-acquainted through paddling. Her enthusiasm for the sport was refreshing, and she seemed to be taking the right approach by attending the clinic and making connections with local boaters. Once again we're reminded in the harshest of ways that paddling alone is never a good idea. I only wish I had advised her to stay completely away from the creek and to wait for another day when someone could join her.

Denise's life, and her paddling experience, were cut far too short. I wish her godspeed.

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