Accident Database

Report ID# 969

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water

Accident Description


On November 5, 1995 over 10 inches of rain fell in Northern Arkansas. All the creeks and rivers were out of their banks by morning. The Big Piney was running at over 10 feet. Indian Creek flows a short distance before merging with the Big Piney near the normal put-in. It is seldom run due to the large number of willow trees that block the stream.

Stephan Burchard, 27, his brother and two others put on at Indian Creek because the water was 3-4 feet over the bridge, blocking access to the Big Piney put-in. Witnesses reported a large crowd of whitewater paddlers in attendance, many of whom tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the four men. The party was not wearing life jackets. Buchard was wearing overalls, sweat pants, and a sweatshirt. They set off at 10:30 am in two single-tube "ducky" type inflatables of the type obtained by sending in Marlboro cigarette packs.

They immediately turned over and swam over the bridge. They refused to be talked out of their venture and launched again. They went another 200 yards before they turned over and swam a second time. At this point the victim's brother declared that he'd had enough and elected to hike out. Buchard continued on, paddling solo while the others went tandem. In less than a half mile the party encountered a tree across the stream. Buchard turned over and became pinned. The other two men, who also hung up, attempted to rescue him by extending a paddle for him to grab. The second boat capsized and all three were swimming!

Two of the men managed to get to shore; they could not find Buchard and began a search. Emergency 911 was called at 11:53 AM; Buchard's body was discovered at 3:15 by Kerry Moore, who along with some other whitewater paddlers assisted in the search. He reported that the body was not pinned and that the victim probably drowned while attempting to swim to shore.

WRITER: Ted Smethers, Arkansas "Paddler"

ANALYSIS: Inexperienced and ill prepared, these paddlers ignored the warnings from a group of obviously knowledgeable paddlers. They clearly did not understand the significance of the water level or the danger of cold water. The absence of a life vest was probably the victim's most significant error; had he worn one he might have lived despite his other shortcomings.

CONCLUSIONS: Warning unprepared groups of floaters is not always as difficult as this, but it can be unproductive. It is worth trying anyway.

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