Accident Database

Report ID# 820

  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • Darkness

Accident Description

Matt Sheridan, 18, died on the upper section of British Columbia’s Rutherford Creek on July 30th. An expert kayaker, his runs have been featured in several issues of Lunch Video Magazine and he was known as “New School Matt”. Pat Keller reported to Boatertalk that he and Matt were very familiar with this run. After running the 35-foot falls they walked around “Portage Rapid” on river right to a seal launch spot just below.

The landing looked nasty, and it was. Mr. Sheridan, 18, launched first, hit the wrong side of a shifting boil, and was carried upstream into an undercut cave. Here he was knocked over and probably hit his head. Mr. Keller got his rope, but slipped on the greasy rocks as he was setting up and landed in the water. After washing under a rock wall he was carried into the top of a Class V rapid. He quickly swam ashore and was heading back upriver when he saw Mr. Sheridan’s kayak float free, upside down, with him inside. The kayak got caught in a
small ledge-hole. Mr. Keller swam out and attempted to grab the boat, but it pulsed free and washed into the Class V rapid below.

Mr. Keller hurried downstream and spotted Mr. Sheridan’s kayak pinned in the crux of a big drop. Realizing the futility of further rescue efforts, he swam across the river, hiked out, and notifi ed authorities. The next morning Mr. Sheridan was found, still in his boat, washed up on a downstream rock.

Many people know basicly what happened but I figure it's a good idea that everyone knows exactly what happened on July 30th 2003.

After a morning run on Rogers Creek, Matt and I decided we needed to go back to Squamish and make a few phone calls. On the way there, we drove past the Rutherford, and noticed it was higher than the last time we ran it, so on the flip of a coin we decided to go run the top waterfall section and take out below the second gorge. I know, just the two of us putting on late in the afternoon was a bad idea but both of us knew the river very well and thought it would just be an hour long deal.

We put on and immediatly knew that it was high enough to run the 35 footer. We raced down over the 20 footer, getting ourselves stoked for the big drop. When we arrived at the 35 footer, we both looked at it for a while, played rock paper scizzors for who would go first and Matt won. I set safety at the bottom for him and he came flying off with a perfect line, landing at about 60 degrees, popping up yelling and pumping his fist. I went shortly after and landed at about 45 degrees. At that point, the portage rapid is right at the bottom of the pool and we both knew neither one of us would run it.

Last year, Matt had run the portage three times and I ran it once this year, about a week before he died in it. Only one of Matt's lines through that rapid were pretty, so we knew it was burley. But we had never portaged it all the way around on the cliff to avoid the outflow of the rapid. We always had seal launched into the current beside the hole/cave and just paddled away. Of course the water was lower then.

After we ran the 35 footer, we were both really fired up and just walked straight to the seal launch spot. We looked over the edge and it didnt look pretty, but then again it was quite calm where we were about to land. So we decided to give 'er. Matt said he would go first so I asked him if he wanted me to give him a push. He thought it over for a minute and said, "Yeah why not". I held him steady as he got into his kayak and before I pushed him in he turned around to give me a high five and said, "Yeah Pat, we're finally running the shit in BC!" I said hell yeah, asked him if he was ready, he said yup and I pushed him in.

As he was going in, his stern clipped a rock and made his bow drop just a tiny bit. As I saw that, I also noticed that a huge boil popped up out of nowhere right where he was about to land. His bow went deep and instead of coming up and charging away, he bounced right back into the cave. I immediatly ran to my boat to get my rope, and I got to a point where I could throw it to him and tow him out of the cave.

He was still fighting trying to get out. I was getting my rope ready and I slipped on the snot covered rocks and fell in. I knew if I fell at all to the left, I would be in the cave with him and probably die too so I hucked my torso as hard as I could to the right, and fortunatly didnt go into the cave. What did happen instead was almost as scary. Instead of going into the cave, I went under the wall that makes all the water swirl back around into it. After a fairly short time of trying to crawl out from under the wall I was swept downstream through the top of then next class 4/5 rapid. I was able to get out before the crux and started running back up twards the cave where I could still see Matt's paddle fluttering trying to paddle out.

I started to climb back up the cliff to try and get back to where I was and tow him out again, but as I was climbing up I saw the hole surge and Matt's boat flush out upsiedown. It looked weird the way it was sitting so high in the water, so my heart dropped when I realized he was still in his kayak, but must be unconcious. I ran along the shore with him for about 20 feet until he stopped in a riverwide ledge-hole. I knew this might be my last chance to get him so I jumped back into the water and body surfed the ledge hole out to where he was. I was only about a foot away from grabbing his boat and swimming through the next rapid with him to try and recesutate him when the hole surged and we both accelerated downstream. I knew that unless I had something to hold on to to keep me afloat, I would probably drown in the next rapid so I scrambled to shore for the second time above the crux. I looked back and saw him flushing around the next corner.

I had to try and get my boat and chase him down the river to get him out. So I ran up to where my boat was and carried it around the cliff. On the way down I was rushing myself to get into the water so I slipped on the snot covered rocks and fell into the water again, this time I had my boat on my shoulder for the second time. I threw my paddle on shore and tried to get my boat out of the water, but it was no use. The boat had too much water in it and the rocks were too slick. I had to let it go and hope it stopped somewhere soon so I could get to it. I ran up to get my paddle, started running downstream to chase the boat, but quickly noticed it had pinned underwater in the same crux of the rapid I was talking about earlier.

At that point I pretty much lost it because I knew there was really nothing else I could do for my best friend. But I thought if I could swim to the other side of the river and get someone to call a rescue squad, they might have a chance of getting him. So I did, I jumped in the river for the 4th time to swim through the next rapid and to the other shore. And after about a half hour of hiking, I got to the dirt road and got the construction crew to call police and an air rescue unit.

Just our luck, all the helicopters were at a fireworks show in Vancouver and none were available until the next morning. A search and rescue unit hiked in but at that point it was too dark to see much of the river so they had to give up the search. The next day, the helicopter spotted him and pulled him out. He was still in his kayak and he was pinned on a rock with his body sprawled on top of the rock.

Appearently, while I was climbing up the cliff to get back up, he was swept all the way into the cave, flipped over and hit his head on a rock that knocked him out and that was it.

Matt was the person I had run more difficult stuff with than anyone else. He was one of my best friends and I thought of him as a big brother.

I miss you bro and I'll never forget you.

Pat Keller

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