Accident Database

Report ID# 946

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Physical Trauma
  • Other

Accident Description

We've all bitten off more than we can chew, and some of us have been hurt, but few have done it in such an unforgiving place!

On October 16th four local kayakers with less than a year's boating experience each decided to try a low-water run on a steep-walled, Class IV-V section of the Elwha River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. On the third drop one of them broached their boat in a narrow chute. He was held against an undercut rock face for 30 seconds and sustained painful hip and abdominal injuries. Members of his party climbed to higher ground and called for help with a cell phone. A ranger and a volunteer doctor scrambled down to the victim and could not rule out a fractured pelvis. A Coast Guard rescue helicopter arrived and hovered above the site. The pilot had no margin for error: blade clearance in the narrow canyon was a mere 75 feet on each side and he was bucking heavy upstream winds. He lowered a rescue swimmer 150 feet, followed by a Stokes Litter. The kayaker was then packaged and hauled to safety.

Day/Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2001
01-557 - Olympic NP (WA) - Rescue

Four local kayakers with less than a year's boating experience decided to float an advanced section of the Elwha River a mile upstream from Lake Mills on October 6th. This highly technical section of river runs through a deep canyon with thousand-foot vertical walls of crumbling rock and numerous waterfalls and narrow squeezes. Even for advanced boaters, there is little margin for error. The foursome decided to try it due to the low river level. On the third drop, kayaker Robert Feller, 27, broached his boat in a narrow squeeze. He sustained a hip injury and torn abdominal muscles as he was slung by the water's force against an underwater rock face.

Feller was held there by the force of the river for about 30 seconds until he was able to wrestle himself out of his kayak. He was pulled from the river by his companions, who positioned him on a narrow rock ledge a foot above the river. Two of them then scrambled out of the canyon, located a hiker with a cell phone, and called 911 to report the accident. Ranger Daniel Pontbriand and park VIP Dr. Sam Baker scrambled down the steep canyon walls to Feller's location. Baker, a retired orthopedic surgeon, examined Feller and could not rule out the possibility of a fractured pelvis or trochanter.

A Coast Guard helicopter was summoned to evaluate the site for a possible hoist extraction. The skillful pilots of the Dauphin helicopter determined that they could safely hover above Feller while bucking up-canyon winds and maintaining a rotor clearance of about 75 feet on either side. A Coast Guard swimmer was lowered 150 feet to Feller's location, followed by a stokes litter. Feller was then hoisted to safety. Had it not been for the skill of the Coast Guard pilots, flight mechanic and rescue swimmer, rangers would have been faced with a lengthy and hazardous litter raising.

[Dee Renee Ericks, DR, OLYM, 10/13]

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