Accident Database

Report ID# 983

  • Pinned in Boat Against Strainer
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

We put on the river at 6:00 PM at the bridge above Coppermine. Since my boat is much lighter than my friend Chuck Wilburn's, I carried on down and then went to scout out the first drop. In the past I always put in below that first drop because I had never liked the way it looked. We had just had rain the previous days so the water was up a little higher. There is a known obstacle at the bottom river right( a log standing on end). Anyways, I walked down to Coppermine and looked for any dangers,and the line i would want to run. I told Chuck that we will run the main drop somewhat on the left angled left. There is a good eddy there, plus it looks as if there may be a hydraulic formed at the base.

By 6:05 I was trapped. We ran it. Chuck went first, and eddied out. I was right behind him. What happened next happened very quickly. I rememberber involuntary lateral movement all the way across the bottom towards river right. I began to flip, butinstead of a complete flip something else happened. I initailly thought a brace had stopped my flip, but I wasn't moving? Then I felt it...pain! There was a felled tree submerged under the water and one of its main branches had punched through my skirt and wedged itself under my thigh brace, over my thigh, and all the way to my feet. Another branch was stabbing me in the abdomen and groin. A tree I didnt see because of the higher water,compounded also by the back wash of the rapid itself. The situation was this: I was on edge,with my hull being slammed by the backwash and every time there was a surge it drove both branches into me further. Theres no way off of this except to reverse it. Everything here is conspiring to flip me and if that happens the branch over my thigh will prevent a roll up.

Thats when the fear set in. I had to hold this edge for over an hour. The more I maintained edge the more that other branch was stabbing me. I had to fight the surge and hold this edge. At times my head would get tired and I would drop under and i suck up water. I was getting cold, tired, and stupid. I started shivering. It was very hard to keep this edge after an hour. My friend had tried to free me from the left side at first. I yelled to him to stop - he was breaking my leg and driving the main branch into me.He has got to get behind me and pull. I have 2 pulleys and prussiks with my rope.

My buddy only has rope. He was scared; it was in his voice.he wanted to go run for help. I didnt want him to leave. During all this J was focused on a tent far downstream..i remember thinking ''what a pretty tent' Lumpkin County EMS arrived. The initial swimmers were blown downstream but one guy did make it to me. I swear I couldn't have lasted any longer. Chuck did manage to get his rope tied to my stern but there was no way he could pull my water filled boat against the current. He was on a rock a little to my right and higher but he doesnt have the strength to do this. He was screaming for help. I remember telling him to tell my wife I loved her....I sort of accepted the fact that I am going to die. I can speed this up by just letting go.

What happens next is a miracle. I remember just hanging in space looking down.I didnt understand what was happening. Chuck pulled me off. I dont know how and he doesnt either. The first thing i did when lowered was to make damned sure I'm clear of the tree, then I rolled over, wet exited and swam the last 2 rapids. The firemen swam alongside me and got me to the shore. They put me on astretcher and carried me to the ambulance.. I didn't want to go to the hospital at first but i am a former paramedic, and didn't fight them. Now, thru out all this I had a knife. I did consider cutting my deck but the problem was i couldnt let go of my edge long enough to do this. I COULDN'T wet exit.because the main branch over my left thigh prevented that.

I was asked later if my boat itself was a factor..I had a Stikine with a huge cockpit and plenty of maneuvering room but I believe though that would not have made a difference.. I sold that S6 and now paddle an H3 but i a mhere to tell you that the design really had nothing to do with it but in the Stikine The real lesson here is that not all hazards are visible. EMS Responded, and this is a tricky subject.Most of them had no clue what to do. I warned off one swimmer telling him there may be other branches. Don't jeopardise your own life! But some did. Now all members were whitewater rescue certified but those who were, or didnt care...tried nonetheess. How brave! What i needed above all else was stabilization.I kept 1/2 flipping so many times. I drank a lot of water and was stabbed by those God awful branches.I will always be eternally grateful to those who tried and forever grateful to Chuck. He did the impossible! I should have died there. lumpkin county ems,

chuck wilburn.

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