Accident Database

Report ID# 87

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  • Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
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Accident Description

KAYAKER DISAPPEARS IN CLASS I RAPID

Russian River below Squaw Rock, Northern CA: March 8, 1992

Gradient 16 fpm; Volume 1400 cfs est; Class II-IV

DESCRIPTION: The Russian River is a Class II-III run popular with San Francisco paddlers. There are harder rapids above Squaw Rock; the river below is mostly class II. Kit Rice, an experienced intermediate boater, was paddling with two other intermediates, were shepherding three novices through the run. She was the most experienced paddler, so she gave the safety talk. She disappeared later, during a rescue attempt.

Here's a write-up of what happened by Susan Starbird, one of her companions:

"A few yards downstream of the Comminsky Station Bridge one of our novices flipped. She was able to swim herself and her boat to where she could stand momentarily on a midstream sandbar. This is just upstream off a rapid called "the room". At that flow the left fork provides a narrow, bumpy, but straight shot downstream, while the right fork meanders between rocks and brushy islands. We eddied out on river right to make the rescue."

"I believed I had seen Kit paddle down the left fork. My attention focused on the swimmer, who faced a long swim in cold water. Eventually her boat broached on a midstream boulder and some logs at river right. I left my boat and climbed the bank with a throw rope while the rest of the group followed the swimmer downstream. Since a second swimmer kept everyone occupied, I waited for a long time for someone to come back and help me unpin the boat. Those downstream thought Kit was upstream, and those upstream thought she was below. No one saw her go anywhere near these same logs and rocks, but the sheriff's swiftwater rescue team found her there the next morning."

SOURCE: Susan Starbird

ANALYSIS: "How does an experienced kayaker disappear in a class I rapid without a cry for help or a paddle slap? Any paddler who has heard of this accident is asking the same question. But while this incident is unique, it's easy enough to lose track of someone for a few moments, and this may be long enough for them to get into trouble. Paddlers must be particularly careful to watch the river at all times when floating, especially during distractions a rescue attempts. It's surprisingly easy to float into something dangerous without being aware of it until too late."

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