Accident Database

Report ID# 842

  • Flush Drowning
  • Other
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

Paddlers in the Northwest were shocked to learn that Ben Manfredi, a well-known paddler, skier, and mountaineer, died while paddling the Grand Canyon of the Elwha River in Olympic National Park. Mr. Manfredi, 24, had made a solo run earlier in the year and knew the river. He and his three friends planned to complete the entire run in a single long day. After an 8 mile hike to the put-in they would run 8.5 miles of Class IV-V rapids in a steep-walled gorge. The flow on November 9th was 1024 cfs, a perfect level.

The group reached the put in at about 10:30 am, and their run through the Upper Canyon went smoothly. They reached the entrance to the Lower Canyon, Goblin’s Gate, at 2:45 pm. After scouting, the first paddler ran through and set safety. Mr. Manfredi came next. He flipped in a small pourover and made four roll attempts before washing over a big drop into a Class I runout. He flushed through a short stretch of easy whitewater and then around a bend.

The safety boater gave chase, and caught sight of a kayak floating upside-down in an eddy. He could see that Mr. Manfredi was still inside as he approached. He quickly righted the kayak; Mr. Manfredi’s sprayskirt was still in place and his paddle was still in his hands. The other paddlers arrived and helped get Mr. Manfredi out of his boat and onto a rock. Two of the men did CPR while a third went for help. After continuing resuscitation efforts for an hour without success, the pair followed wilderness protocols and discontinued their efforts. They secured his body and scrambled out of the canyon. Olympic Mountain Rescue hiked in and recovered his body the next day.

Mr. Manfredi was a very strong paddler who had not bailed out of his kayak in over two years. There was no sign of a head injury, and his friends speculated that he probably kept trying to roll back up until he lost consciousness. This would not have been the first time it has happened to someone, and this reminds us all that although rolling is important, we must always leave a reserve so we can bail out and swim. Someone also suggested that a new pair of neoprene gloves may have made orienting the paddle blade more difficult than anticipated, and that this is what caused his rolls to fail.


I am sorry to report that Ben Manfredi died on the Rica canyon section of the Elwha on Sunday.  We were having a great day.  After a great run on the Grand Canyon of the Elwha we have only two rapids left in the lower canyon.  He flipped and went over a small drop upside down.  I saw that he made several failed roll attempts as the river bent around the corner and out of site.  I followed behind in pursuit expecting to help pick up gear from his swim.  I found his kayak in the eddy right around the corner upside down.  He was still in it and apparently no effort was made to pull out.  We attempted CPR for most of an hour, never with any sign of life.

SAR and the National Parks people brought him and his kayak up out the gorge last night (Monday) around 6.  Seeing your best paddling buddy (or anyone else for that matter) in his drysuit on a stretcher is tough.

Ben was an awesome paddler.  He had the ability to go do a river once and be able to memorize the lines.  It was like he was my personal Class V paddle guide.  He will be sorely missed by all that knew him.

Please pray for his family and that God may continue to give them strength and peace.

John Easton

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