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Accident Description


EXPERT PADDLER DIES ON THE WHITE SALMON RIVER

Green Truss Bridge to BZ Corners: February 2, 1994

Gradient - 45; Level - low; Classification - IV-V

SUMMARY:  On February 12, 1994 four expert paddlers were running the Green Truss bridge to BZ Corners section of the White Salmon river in Washington.  One of the paddlers, Jack Kleinman, pinned on a log in a pourover and drowned while attempting to run a difficult rapid near the end of the run.

DESCRIPTION:  The White Salmon drains the north slope of Mount Adams. It gets much of its volume from underground springs and is runnable when other rivers in the area are too low. The paddlers making the run were all experts who had made the run many times. Three had paddled together for over 8 years. The victim, Jack Kleinman, had 14 years of paddling experience on class V runs throughout the world.  He had paddled this section 4 times during the past year and once the week before. He was in excellent physical condition and knew the river well.

On this particular day the river was low, and water and air temperature in the 40's. Recent cold weather had left ice along the banks of the river. The group ran 4 of 6 miles successfully, portaging twice around a 24 ft waterfall and a class V double drop. Everyone was paddling well as they entered the hardest rapid on the run, a narrow, twisting, boulder choked canyon. This rapid is difficult to scout from the bank, so two of the boaters who had run the river the previous week elected to boat scout.  Jack caught the eddy at the top, discussed the situation, with a third boater, and elected to run in the same manner. The third man ran successfully, joining the other two paddlers in an eddy above the last part of the rapid. Jack ran the first 2/3 of the rapid on line but a slight miscalculation in ferry angle caused the boat to hit the canyon wall. This pushed the bow of his kayak down; it fell behind a medium sized log pinned vertically near the bank in a small pourover. Jack flipped over, and his boat pinned vertically behind the log and dropped beneath the surface. Only three feet of his kayak stern was sticking out. 

John Chlopek then climbed up the rapid into the turbulent eddy below the pourover. He jumped out of his boat, swam into the pourover, and grabbed Jack by the back of the helmet. The water covered him, and he was unable to gain a foothold he needed to pull Jack out. The other two paddlers exited their boats on a small bank on river right. One threw a throw bag John, but couldn't hold onto both Jack and the rope and was washed downstream. The other two paddlers continued to throw the rope at the submerged boat with no results. 

John now swam back upstream and joined his companions. Ice on the river bank made movement difficult. He decided to try and reach Jack again. He was unable to cross the strong current in the channel and was washed downstream. John then began throwing another rope at Jack. They continued for several minutes until they snagged something. Everyone now pulled on the rope; the boat shifted and broke free from the pin. Jack floated free of the kayak. 

Approximately 15 minutes had elapsed since the submersion. John and another boater swam Jack to shore and started CPR. John climbed out of the canyon and went for help while the two remaining boaters continued their efforts. About 30 minutes later local paramedics arrived. They worked on Jack for about an hour. He was then evacuated from the canyon with the help of about 20 locals. CPR continued all the way to the local hospital and was maintained for 2 hours while rewarming was attempted. Rewarming failed.

AUTHOR:  John Chlopek and Lee Bonfiglio

ANALYSIS:  This incident shows the following:

1)  Class V rapids are is dangerous even to qualified experts who know the river well.

2)  Even the most aggressive, determined and technically correct rescue attempts can fail.

3)  Logs are an extremely dangerous river hazard that deserves utmost respect.