Big Laurel Creek is a scenic class II-IV four-mile stream that runs into the French Broad River west of Asheville, North Carolina. On June 14th a father and his teen-aged son attempted the run in two kayaks, one hardshell and one inflatable. Because the water level was very low, only - 4", the usual route down Suddy Hole Rapid was too shallow to run. Most of the water funneled into the horseshoe-shaped ledge that creates Suddy Hole. According to a detailed account in the Hot Springs, NC News-Record and Sentinel, Mark Simms, 52, ran first in his inflatable. He came through fine, but his son's kayak nosed deep, struck a rock, and got stuck in the hole. The boy floated free, but his kayak would not come out.
Mr. Simms decided to retrieve his son's kayak, and here he made a fatal mistake. He tied a rope around his chest, something that a trained whitewater paddler knows not to do. He entered the river and swam out to the kayak. Thirty feet from shore he was pummeled by the hole and pulled under. The boy tried to pull his father in, but the rope became snagged on the bottom and it wouldn't budge. By changing the direction of pull he was able to pull his father free, but by then he'd been under too long. After trying CPR he hiked back to the put in where he met a family and notified authorities.
Rescue teams, assisted by a group of high school students, walked downstream and carried Mr. Simms out in his ducky. The next day several whitewater paddlers who trained in river rescue paddled the river and retrieved the kayak. It was still stuck in Suddy Hole. One of them waded out on a rock shelf and was able to clip a carabiner into the grab loop.