November 9th also saw a drowning on Section IV of the Chattooga River near Clayton, Georgia. Water levels were modest, 1.6’ feet at the Rt. 76 Bridge. Two different groups who were working their way through the “Five Falls” section met up above Class V Corkscrew Rapids. It’s not entirely clear what happened next, but here’s my best attempt, based on Boatertalk posts and an email sent to me by Dennis Kerrigan, a rescue instructor and longtime Chatooga guide.
Keith Green, 40, was in the first group. He elected to run Class V Corkscrew Rapid while others in his group watched. He flipped and bailed out, but appeared to be in good shape and swimming aggressively above Crack in the Rock.
Two paddlers from the second group followed. Neither one saw Mr. Green’s swim and one of them separated his shoulder and needed help. As the second group dealt with the injured person several people from the first group ran Corkscrew and continued working their way downstream. None of them realized that Mr. Green was in trouble.
After the uninjured boater from the second group finished running the Five Falls he was dismayed to find two paddles floating in the pool below Soc ‘em Dog Rapid. By now a member of the first group started to ask if anyone had seen a guy in a green helmet. A search began, but Mr. Green had disappeared.
On November 12th rescuers using an underwater camera found his body pinned in Right Crack.With all the confusion it’s not surprising that there was some finger-pointing afterwards. Certainly it would have been useful to set safety below Corkscrew beforehand, and this would have provided one reliable witness to the accident. But drops of this difficulty are often run without setting downstream safety, and if that risk is taken, someone has to go first. When a paddler misses their roll at Corkscrew, it’s imperative that they bail out and start swimming to the right side at once. There’s a large eddy here which is pretty easy to catch at most levels. Crack in the Rock is a notorious body snatcher, and can make a swimmer disappear instantly. You do not want to get washed here without your boat!
Having lots of people around sometimes gives paddlers a false sense of security, and makes it tough to keep track of people. Although groups often assist each another on the river, it’s unreasonable to expect other parties to keep track of people in your group. We often lose sight of someone for a few seconds on difficult runs, especially if there are distractions or obstacles. Mr. Green is not the first person to disappear suddenly on a river with a lot of people nearby, and he won’t be the last. Group management techniques like the buddy system are useful in crowds, but not foolproof.