Accident Database

Report ID# 953

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

The East Fork of the South Fork near Yellow Pine, Idaho is a steep and difficult run. Grant Amaral's guidebook, "Idaho the Whitewater State " describes the East Fork as Class V+ when flowing above 1500 cfs. The river was flowing more than 2400 cfs on Monday, making the drops extremely turbulent and unforgiving.

Bert Ole Funk, 29, had learned to kayak in Colorado five years earlier. He had been boating with six other paddlers on rivers like the Little Salmon and Main Salmon prior to the accident, and had performed well. Although others in the group had successfully run the East Fork at higher flows the previous day, this was Funk's first attempt.

On May 31, 1999 Funk’s group stopped in an eddy above a mile-long Class V+ rapid called "Flight Simulator." Funk flipped while attempting to enter the eddy. He rolled and attempted to catch another eddy downstream, but missed it also. He washed backwards into a large hole that held him and his kayak for some time. When he washed free, he could not roll up afterward and was forced to swim. He flushed downstream and was battered by a series of big pourovers.

As one of his friends attempted to catch Funk without success, others tried to reach him from shore with throw ropes. Funk was still conscious, making eye contact with people on shore, but he could not grab the ropes. Another kayaker pulled him to shore by near Reegan Creek, two miles downstream. He was given CPR for 45 minutes before a Valley County Sheriff's Deputy pronounced him dead.

SOURCE: An article in the McCall Star-News by Roger Phillips quoting Jeff Loy, one of the kayakers in the party, and Deputy Sheriff Dave McClintock

ANALYSIS: (Walbridge)

1. In Class V whitewater, swimming is dangerous and rescue is extremely difficult. This is a clear case of flush drowning in water so turbulent that even a life vest and helmet can’t offer full protection to a swimmer. Funk died despite the efforts of many people to help him. His boat was a relatively low-volume kayak only eight feet, four inches long. Only strong boaters can handle a small playboat in hard rapids!

2. Funk was wearing a good life vest and a Kevlar helmet. There were gouges in the helmet, possibly from rock hits, and a "dime-sized" chip in the back. It is possible that he became stun


The East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon near Yellow Pine, Idaho is one of the toughest, most relentless pieces of Class V+ whitewater in the country. On Monday, May 31 Bert Ole Funk, 29, was attempting a high water run with six friends. An article written for the McCall Star-News by Roger Phillips described the following chain of events: Funk apparently flipped while trying to enter an eddy above Flight Simulator. He rolled up, missed a second eddy, and drifted backwards into a large hole. He washed out quickly, but missed several roll attempts, and bailed out. He swam the rest of this long rapid, getting battered by many large holes. As the group gave chase, several people on shore reached him with accurately-placed throw ropes. The group believes that Funk was still conscious, but he could not grab hold of a rope. He was pulled into shore by another party two miles downstream. They tried CPR, but by then it was too late. Rescuers found deeply gouges on Funk's helmet, and they believe a blow to the head may have stunned him and left him helpless.ned at some point in his swim, which might explain his inability to grab throw lines or self rescue.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!