Accident Database

Report ID# 992

  • Other
  • Hypothermia
  • High Water

Accident Description

On Sunday, February 21, Steve Northcutt and I decided to take our first river trip of the season. The Rappahanock was a healthy level, so we loaded a kayak, C-1, and associated gear, put on wetsuits, and headed for Falmouth Rapids. At the put-in, two men waved at us from Lauk’s Island . They repeated the gesture, as did we. All of a sudden we thought those guys might be in trouble: As I hailed a passerby, Steve got in his boat and ferried across the river. He ferried back and reported that the men had been paddling and had broached their canoe on a rock, losing all their equipment in Falmouth Rapids. They had managed to make it to the island despite the cold water, but were thoroughly chilled despite the 60 degree temperatures. They were wearing blue jeans (the mark of the rugged outdoorsman) but no life vests.

During this time the policeman, Officer Rodney Coates, had radioed the rescue squad. Steve and I raced home to get our open boats, which were more suited for rescue. Returning in fifteen minutes, we found two ambulances and a fire truck at the scene, and a motorboat arrived soon after we did. We pulled down our boats and threw in extra life jackets. The rescue squad gave us some blankets, and we ferried out to the island. Then minutes later, we were back with the victims, who were taken to Mary Washington Hospital as a precaution.

The rescue squad personnel were cooperative in the effort, and quite impressed by the ferrying capabilities we had. They did not think it was possible to “fight the current”, although given proper technique it was quite easy. Although the rescue squad has a line gun which has been used to get ropes to stranded victims in the past, this method is quite tough on them since it requires total immersion on cold, fast water. In one instance a victim was unconscious upon reaching shore, having tied himself into a rope (a dangerous procedure in itself). It may also take several shots to reach the victim with the time and risk of additional injury it entails. Clearly the best and fastest rescue is by a boat handled by those skilled in dealing with white water.

Editor’s note: Many rescue squads will give all sorts of reasons for not making use of assistance offered by skilled paddlers. This area is fortunate in having more flexible officers.

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