Accident Database

Report ID# 8396

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water

Accident Description


The two boaters involved were both highly experienced kayakers and raft guides. They were paddling the Penobscot and then hiked up the Nesowadnehunk Stream, a tributary of the Penobscot and the victim was caught in a keeper at the bottom most drop on the stream, a small falls and rock slide with a hole at the bottom. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to roll and wet exited. He was unable to stay with his boat. His companion did not have his throw rope, and used a tree limb to reach out to his friend, who reached up and tried to pull himself out, but was unsuccessful, on a subsequent try, he was unresponsive and didn't reach for the limb.

Yesterday Joe Giffune lost his life to drowning while kayaking on Nesowadnehunk Stream.  He was caught in a hydraulic at the ledges and couldn't get out.  Efforts to rescue him and ultimately to preform CPR were unsuccessful.  Joe and his partner scouted the rapid and his partner ran it cleanly just ahead of Joe. 

Please know that the water levels on the Penobscot had dropped to 6400cfs and this paddle was meant to be part of a lazy late afternoon lower river run. I share this because there has been some speculation that the river was being run at unreasonably high water, and or that unreasonable risks were taken.  That is not the case.  Joe and Chris were out enjoying what many of us enjoy most about living and working near the water.

Matt Polstein via email

This ledge is just above the confluence with the West Branch.

Millinocket man dies in Sunday kayak accident

Joseph Giffune got trapped underwater in a hydraulic

while whitewater kayaking on Nesowadnehunk Stream.

Bangor Daily News staff report

A Millinocket man died in a kayaking accident Sunday on Nesowadnehunk Stream in Piscataquis County.Joseph Giffune Jr., 25, was whitewater kayaking with a friend just after 5 p.m. on a section of the stream just above the West Branch of the Penobscot River when he got stuck in a hydraulic at the bottom of some ledges and was unable to free himself, according to a release from the Maine Game Wardens.

Hydraulics, or holes, are formed when fast water flows over a submerged boulder or ledge, causing the water on the surface to flow back upstream. People can get trapped under the surface in the powerful, recirculating current.

The companion tried unsuccessfully to rescue Giffune. Eventually the hydraulic released him, and he was swept downstream into the West Branch.Giffune was unconscious when he was pulled from the river. Life-saving measures were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Millinocket rescue personnel assisted game wardens at the scene.


Maine man killed in weekend kayaking incident identified

May 8, 2017
BAXTER STATE PARK, Maine —A Maine man was killed while whitewater kayaking Sunday, Cpl. John MacDonald, with the Maine Warden Service, said. Joseph Giffune Jr., 25, of Millinocket, was on the Nesowadnehunk Stream south of Baxter State Park when he became stuck in a hydraulic, MacDonald said. A hydraulic is an area where water pours over an object, like a rock or ledge, causing the water on the surface to flow upstream. Another kayaker attempted to rescue Giffune, but was unsuccessful. He was pulled from the river and pronounced dead at the scene.

Joseph 'Joe' Damian Giffune Jr.

Apr 15, 1992 - May 7, 2017

- See more at:

Westfield, MA - Joseph Damian Giffune, Jr. (Joe) was born April 15, 1992, at Bay State Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, to his loving parents Joseph Sr. (Joe) and Jennifer Giffune. Joe was a lover of music, adventures, food, sports, and the outdoors - but above all else, he loved people, and he gathered them around him wherever he went. He attended Church of the Atonement Preschool, Munger Hill Elementary School, Westfield Middle School North, and Westfield High School, all in Westfield, MA. Joe was active in sports, music, and drama throughout school, in addition to being active in outdoor adventure through Wilderness Experiences Unlimited.

After graduating from Westfield High School in 2010, Joe pursued dual degrees in Criminal Justice and Business at Sacred Heart University, where after a rugby injury, he became a forceful and outspoken advocate for organ donors like the ones who enabled him to walk again. During this time, he also was trained as an Emergency Medical Technician and in Wilderness First Aid, training that he was able to apply on several occasions. As an adult, Joe lived a life dictated by his dreams, an accomplishment few can truly claim. Working as a whitewater raft guide in the summer and as a snowmobile guide and groomer in the winter, Joe's warmth and energy were an undeniable addition to every life he touched.

On May 7, 2017, at the age of 25, Joe died as he had lived: with unbridled enthusiasm and commitment, doing what he loved in the place that he loved, with the people he loved. As was his wish, Joe continues to help others in death as he did in life through the gift of organ and tissue donation.

He is survived by his parents, Joe and Jen, his younger sisters, Grace and Hannah, and his older sister Kate and brother-in-law Aaron, as well as many more family and friends. His family welcomes Joe's community to join them in calling hours from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, May 12, 2017, to be held at Firtion Adams Funeral Home, 76 Broad Street in Westfield, MA, followed by a memorial service at 7 p.m. In lieu of flowers, they ask those who wish to commemorate Joe's life to do so by making arrangements to, like Joe, become organ donors through the New England Organ Bank ( or to make a donation in his name to the same organization.

"Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Published on  May 10, 2017




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