Accident Database

Report ID# 985

  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

John Norton of Atlanta, Georgia, an experienced paddler who had run the Ocoee many times before, attempted to rescue his friend's canoe above "Hell Hole." Misjudging his proximity to the bridge abutment as he ferried to his friend's boat, Norton's canoe flipped upstream and pinned solidly on the abutment. When he attempted to bail out of his pinned canoe, one foot entangled in his thigh strap. Though Norton had a knife, he was unable to use it to cut himself free. The current pushed him under water where he struggled for an occasional breath.

On shore, professional guides from High Country Outfitters in Atlanta, GA, were setting a throw line for an upcoming trip. Though they saw the accident happen, they did not immediately realize that Norton was trapped in his boat.

Leaping into action when they determined Norton was underwater, they ran to the bridge and lowered guide, Karen Berry, 20 feet below to the pinned boat. Berry secured her footing atop the pinned boat and tied a line lowered from above to the victim's belt allowing Norton's head to be raised above the water. At this point Berry realized the victim was entangled in his boat and called for a knife to be sent down so she could cut Norton free. Once Norton was free, he was tied in a Swiss seat and pulled upward to safety where he was evacuated by ambulance to a local hospital, treated and released.

"The victim made no serious mistakes except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not an uncommon situation during rescues, so extra care is indicated at these times. It should be noted that the victim had a knife, but was unable to use it. The rescue, swift and well-organized, was characteristic of professional guides and would be difficult for private groups to duplicate without comparable dedication. Think about this the next time someone in your group complains about 'raft pollution'!"

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