Accident Database

Report ID# 843

  • Vertical Pin
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • Failed Rescue
  • Other

Accident Description

On January 25th there was a death on the Russell Fork near Elkhorn City, Kentucky. Jon Lord, 34, was known to many East Coast paddlers as the "Lord of the Fork". He was a local legend with over 300 runs down this Class V river. A report posted to Boatertalk by Jay Ditty, one of Mr. Lord's companions, states that the flow was roughly 700 cfs, slightly less than a normal fall release. The weather was bitterly cold, with air temperatures in the mid 30's accompanied by an icy wind and sleet. Mr. Lord was paddling his playboat, as he often did.

At Tower Rapids, the first Class V drop, Mr. Lord ran third and last. He took the main boof line and dropped out of sight behind huge boulders. When his paddle floated free, his friends became alarmed. They scrambled upstream and saw him vertically pinned in the top drop, an 8' high ledge. Mr. Lord was completely under water, but had an air pocket and was fighting to keep his head up. But he was quickly overwhelmed by the force of the water, and his life vest washed off about 20 minutes later. His companions attempted to reach him from both sides of the river with throw ropes. They managed to snag his boat twice, but could not pull it free.  After 30 minutes of fruitless effort they paddled out cautiously and notified authorities. The Elkhorn City rescue squad rode a train up the gorge and reached the scene in at dusk. Since they couldn't get to Mr. Lord from that side of the river they wisely postponed further recovery efforts until the next day.
Kayakers from all over the East joined local rescuers in an attempt to recover Mr. Lord's body. The intense search continued for several days despite frightfully cold weather. Rafts were used to ferry dive team members into place while kayakers ferried ropes and provided backup. Mr. Lord's boat was found quickly, but despite an intensive effort using scent dogs and an underwater camera nothing more could be found. In the weeks that followed small groups of kayakers regularly patrolled the river. On February 24th his body was spotted in a river right eddy almost a mile downstream of the accident site.

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