Accident Database

Report ID# 839

  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Tragedy struck a small group of experienced kayakers on the Upper South fork of the California Salmon on July 7th. According to a report written by Mike Sampson and posted on Boatertalk, the flow on this Class IV-V run was pretty minimal, about 350 cfs. Mr. Sampson was working his way down a steep, obstructed boulder garden when he heard three sharp blasts on a whistle. He scrambled downstream with his rope to see Wayne Hawthorne, 48, badly pinned on and under a submerged rock. The other member of the party was standing on the rock, holding Mr. Hawthorne’s head above water.

This pin occurred just above an 8’ waterfall, and the boulders creating the drop apparently also created a very dangerous sieve. When Mr. Sampson swam out to the site he was almost pulled underneath the pinned boat himself! The two men began a desperate struggle against the tremendous suction, but Mr. Hawthorne kept sinking deeper and deeper. He finally lost consciousness and his PFD came off. Eventually he disappeared from view. The loose PFD, along with both pairs of the rescuer’s river shoes, were also sucked down into the hole. At this point, one of the rescuers washed downstream. The remaining rescuer reached down for the kayak and found the cockpit empty. Realizing that they’d done all they could, they hiked out and notified authorities.

The body recovery was an epic task. The next day a rescue team brought a 9:1 haul system and a grappling hook. They hooked the kayak, pulled, and straightened the hook! The body was finally recovered on August 9th. Lower water levels allowed the rescuers to use an underwater camera to locate Mr. Hawthorne, who they then brought to the surface after six hours of hard work.

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