KAYAKER DIES IN CHATOOGA'S FIVE FALLS
Section IV near Clayton, GA: March 11, 1993
Gradient 45 fpm (100'+ in the Five Falls); Level 1'9; Class IV+
SUMMARY: On March 11, 1993 four kayakers got together to run Section IV of the Chatooga River. One of the group, Mike Williams, flipped in a large hole near the bottom of Entrance Rapid. Mike did not roll up, and washed through the remaining drops in the five falls area before his body was recovered.
DESCRIPTION: The Wild and Scenic Section IV of the Chatooga forms the border between and South Carolina. It is one of the more challenging advanced runs in the Southeast, with back-to-back class IV-V rapids in the Five Falls area. The day was sunny and 60°; the river level, 1'9, is considered moderate. Mike Williams, 45, was an experienced paddler who was having a bad day. He swam twice in the big drops and hung back in the eddies rather than playing. He seemed "tight", but assured everyone he was O.K. They reached the Five Falls at about
Williams was the last of the four to run. One of the group had caught an eddy midway down the rapid; as Williams passed by he yelled, "where did they go?" His friend responded, "River right, catch the eddy." Instead of going right, Williams turned left, dropped into a large hole, and flipped. The man upstream blew his whistle, and another paddler waiting downstream ferried out towards the capsized boat. Williams tried to roll twice, but after the second attempt made no move to escape. The rescuer tried to flip the boat upright until he found himself floating backwards into Corkscrew rapid. Since he was unfamiliar with the drop, he pulled into an eddy. The second rescuer peeled out and followed the overturned boat downriver but got caught in the big hole on river right. By the time he worked free Williams had washed through Crack In The Rock. The other two men abandoned their boats and ran down the riverbank with throw ropes. They now returned to their boats, and the group ran Crack In The Rock, then portaged Jawbone and Sock-em-Dog.
William's boat was found floating upright in the pool below Sock-em Dog about thirty minutes after he capsized, with his sprayskirt still in place. One member of the party continued downstream and a few minutes later found Williams’ body and pulled him to shore. Another party came by and helped the group load the body in an open canoe. They ran the remaining rapids, crossed the lake to the take-out, and proceeded to the nearest hospital where they notified authorities.
SOURCE: Report told to Gary Brindel by Joe Okeniewski
ANALYSIS: Williams was clearly having an off-day. Carrying Entrance Rapid would have been a good idea, but it is not an easy portage. The group speculates that he may have hit his head on a rock between his first and second roll attempt, but does not say if there was an obvious head injury. The stretch downstream is a bit pushy at this level, and the group's controlled pursuit prevented other problems.