Accident Database

Report ID# 944

  • Swim into Rock or Sieve
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

Veteran Ocoee River guide Buddi Davis reported a harrowing incident that he was involved in this past summer. On August 8th a group of guides was running the Nolichucky River below Poplar, NC. The flow was a moderate 990 cfs. Rachel Sarchet, 19, flipped her IK below Murphy's Ledge and swam. She was picked up by a kayaker, but let go prematurely and was swept into a rather ordinary looking rock. She was pulled deep under this rock and pinned. The current was strong enough to pull her life vest off!

Her group responded beautifully. Several people swam out to the rock, reached down, grabbed hold of her arms, and tried to pull her free. Others set up a stabilization line and managed to snag a carabiner attached to Ms. Sarchet's guide belt. As a team of guides hauled on the ropes and reworked their angle of pull for maximum effectiveness, the guys on the rock's downstream side found Ms. Sarchet's feet sticking out through a void in the rock, and actually pushed them back through! The group had Ms. Sarchet ashore in less than ten minutes, truly a remarkable feat. They pulled her to a flat rock, began CPR, and continued to the river right shore.

While this was going on, the group working the snag line on the river left side heard a train coming. They ran to the tracks and managed to flag it down. Still performing good CPR, the remaining guides used a raft to ferry Ms. Sarchet over to the tracks. The engineer doesn't usually stop for anyone, but something told him that this time was different.

When they arrived at the put-in Ms. Sarchet was breathing on her own. Because the engineer had radioed ahead, an ambulance was waiting. Ms. Sarchet was driven to a church parking lot, transferred to a helicopter, and flown to a hospital in Johnson City, TN. As of this writing (late 2001), she has not fully regained consciousness, but she's now at home and showing signs of improvement. A fund has been set up to pay for her care at home, which is not insured. You can send donations to the Rachel Sarchet Recovery Fund at the 5th 3rd Bank, 1212 West Kemper Street, Cincinnati, OH 45240.

Unfortunately, Ms. Sarchet had been under water too long. She sustained serious brain injuries. Many appeals went out to the paddling community, and to the general public, requesting donations and well wishes. The best efforts of everyone involved were not entirely successful; she passed away on February 2, 2003.

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