After over a year's work American Whitewater has released an upgraded version of their Whitewater Accident Database. It's the largest collection of its kind in the world, with over 1600 fatalities and close calls dating back to 1972. Each report has been checked for accuracy and AW Webmaster Ryan Groth greatly improved the search capacity. You can now locate accidents by a dozen different categories and characteristics. Here's how this project came about, how it evolved, why American Whitewater reports accidents and how you can help us keep this project going in the coming years.
On April 12, 2015 a Canadian paddler visiting the US was killed on the Farmlands section of Washington's White Salmon River. Denis Brown, 63, flipped in "triple Drop" rapid, did not roll, and washed iunto a strainer on the river right bank. Mr. Brown came our of his kayak and pinned against the strainer, and his boat washed down and lodged against him. There is an excellent report of this and the vigorous rescue attempt available now in the AW Accident Database.
Shannon Christy, a charismatic young paddler, was killed in Great Falls of the Potomac River on July 11th, 2013. After bailing out below Grace Under Pressure, one of the center chutes, she washed over the notorious "Middle Finger" drop into the Subway, a deadly sieve. There is a full write-up of this fatality in the AW Accident Database. The photo shows Steve Fisher and Jason Beakes during the difficult body recovery.
On March 9, 2013 Dr. Jim McComb died after his kayak pinned vertically in a small ledge on Arizona's East Verde River. His friend Dr. Bill Langhoffer recently forwarded a detailed description of the pin along with several photos which may be useful to any paddler running difficult whitewater. Photo Caption: This view is from the top of the drop as we found the boat weeks later once the water had receded from 500 to 20 cfs, and had transformed from muddy to clear water. The piton rock can be seen (#2). This small rock at the base of the fall is what stopped his boat. The left slant in the rock at the base of the fall can be noticed (#4), with the boat still leaning in that direction. Once his boat sunk in the water it hit that slant and rotated the boat to the left.Jim was now pinned in the slot between the 2 rocks (Red/White and Black) on the river left (#5).The approximate water line at 500 cfs was drawn into the photo, water line.
Teams compete in river rescue skills for overall prizes. The event will be based out of Dillsboro River Company at the put-in to the Tuckasegee Gorge – Dillsboro, NC.
American Whitewater's Accident Database contains more than 1000 fatal accidents and near misses reported over the last 35 years. We sometimes give qualified water safety researchers access to this material. Our latest research partner is Ed Kern, a Masters Degree candidate in civil engineering at Brigham Young University in Utah. Click through for more information and a link to his web site.
American Whitewater just received an report on the death of Selby Arno on California's Clear Creek last December. It is very complete and well written; you can read the entire report by clicking on the link below:
A quick-thinking NOC bus driver saved a life during a scheduled September water release on North Carolina’s fast-moving Upper Nantahala River. A kayaker who pulled over above a downed tree didn’t realize that the current there was still powerful enough to cause trouble. Her boat was pushed into and under the log where both disappeared. Fortunately Rob Kelly, a whitewater guide, was driving shuttle bus and witnessed the entrapment. He pulled his bus over and started wading across the river. The rescue was caught by photographer Rick Thompson. To read Mr. Kelly's account, click the link below:
The Little River near Townsend, Tennessee is one of the nicest class III-IV roadside runs in Smokey Mountain National Park. On March 11th an open canoeist flipped in the first drop of "the Meanies" just above The Sinks and washed downstream over a 6' ledge. He was swimming on his back, feet first, lined up with the current when he washed into the backwash and did not reappear. The water "planted" him vertically in rocks below the drop, catching his foot. Many paddlers who were on the river that day participated in the rescue, eventially using a complex live bait system to pull the man free. Click through for a detailed account of what happened.
American Whitewater is reaching out to our membership to encourage participation in a study of boating conditions and recreation safety conducted by consultants working with the Yakama Nation Fisheries program. The study reaches include Nason Creek, Twisp River, and Chewuch River. The overall purpose of the study is to identify known and anticipated river users and evaluate riverine hazards as habitat restoration projects are planned and implemented.
Charity Navigator has recognized our diligence in adhering to strict financial accountability for the third straight year (something that only happens to the top 9% of non profits they rate). It is an honor to receive this top rating three years in a row for our philanthropic efforts in river conservation. At American Whitewater, we strive to maintain the high standards set forth by Charity Navigator and work hard to earn the trust and respect of our members.
Removal of Condit Dam is nearing completion and we are getting ready to celebrate the moment on Saturday September 29th. Contractors still have equipment in and along the river that will be removed over the next couple weeks and a log jam resulting from the dam breach still needs to be addressed. It's important for paddlers to wait until this work is done and everyone considering this reach needs to understand the hazards associated with the class IV/V entrance drop into the Narrows.
The Upper Youghiogheny River has some of the East's finest expert-level summer whitewater. Memorial Day Weekend is the first of many busy release weekends which create crowded conditions on and off the river. For the past four decades the paddling community has done a good job managing themselves. Here are some things you can do to help your trip run more smoothly.
Blackwater Falls State Park has asked AW to remind paddlers running West Virginia’s Upper Blackwater River to sign in at Blackwater Lodge before putting on. Park Manager Rob Gilligan says that although many kayakers are complying, a significant number are not. American Whitewater believes that registration is our best interest. In addition to helping emergency responders, registration demonstrates to political leaders that we are a responsible, law abiding group. It’s also helpful for both AW and the park to know just how many people are paddling the Upper Blackwater. By checking-in, you’re letting everyone know that this is a valuable part of whitewater sport. Take the time to do this, and remind your friends
American Whitewater recently learned that O.K. Goodwin, founder of The Coastal Canoeists (1965) and long-time AW safety chair (1970 to 1987), died on December 3, 2011. He was 90 years old. A lifelong resident of Newport News, VA, he was a designer of merchant ships (and the occasional canoe) for almost four decades. He was an instructor, Scout leader, and a whitewater competitor in C-1 and in C-2 with his wife, Glenna. They were married for 64 years and their daughter Cyndi was a top-ranked K-1W racer. He was well known on the race circuit, always there with his coiled rope at the toughest part of the course. As Safety Chair he discussed the inevitable conflicts between river-savvy paddlers and the wider, less knowledgeable society in which we all live. He pioneered outreach to state and local government and encouraged others to do the same. His work laid important foundation for today's American Whitewater. (Drawing by Les Fry in CoastalCaNews)
After a second fatality on West Virginia's Upper Blackwater River in just over two years Blackwater Falls State Park is now making it mandatory to sign in at the state park lodge and will ticket any kayakers who do not sign in. First run in 1971 by Joe Monahan, Phil Allender, and Todd Martin, this stretch has become a classic "test piece" for today's high-end creek boaters. Tucker County, which responds to accidents in the drainage, is considering legislation to make anyone requiring help from Search and Rescue responsible for the costs. The State Park has also threatened "drastic actions" if faced with more fatal incidents in the future, possibly eliminating access to the Upper Blackwater from State Park land. AW strongly urges paddlers to cooperate with the park and to exercise extra caution when running the river.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans a higher than normal whitewater release for the World Kayak Canyon Doors Freestyle Festival on Tuesday, September 20, 2011. Summersville Dam will release to 4700 cfs from 5:30 - 11:00 am; afterwards, the release will gradually drop to 700 cfs over the next 8 hours. This is significantly more water than the regular weekend Gauley releases of 2800 cfs. This added water makes all sections, especially the Upper Gauley, more challenging. Paddlers utilizing this special release should exercise caution to avoid unpleasant surprises. Signs advising of this flow increase will be posted by the National Park Service at all major access areas.
Pamela S. Dillon recently retired as chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Watercraft, which administers Ohio’s boating safety, access, and law enforcement programs. Ms. Dillon, a skilled whitewater paddler, played a key role in bringing the swiftwater rescue skills used by whitewater paddlers to firefighters, rescue squads, and other safety professionals nationwide. As executive director of American Canoe Association she played a vital role explaining recreational paddlesports to her former colleagues in state and federal boating agencies. Her dilligent advocacy prevented many unnecessary restrictions on our sport. She was also credited, as division chief, with saving the Ohio Scenic Rivers program in 2009. Join us in wishing her many happy days paddling at her second home along the Lower Yough!
The Higgins and Langley Awards honor outstanding achievements in swiftwater and flood rescue. This is the first time that whitewater kayakers have been honored. On October 3, 2010 a kayaker seriously injured his cervical spine in a whitewater kayaking incident on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Paralyzed and unable to move, he was rescued by four kayakers he had met only 45 minutes before—Michael Howard, Kevin Sipe, Neal Carmack, and Bryant Haley. These kayakers chased him though Class II-III rapids, catching him and rolling him upright just before entering a bigger drop. One of the rescuers, trained as a military medic, immobilized his neck while another paddled ahead to get help. The rest got him safely into an eddy and worked with an outfitter to carry him to a waiting ambulance on the road.
Pillow Rock Rapid on West Virginia’s Upper Gauley has been thought of as big, powerful, but relatively hazard free. That changed on October 10th when veteran paddler Mark Hanna died after pinning on a previously unknown undercut rock.His friends agree on these facts: At Pillow rock, running fourth in a group of 9, he flipped on the big pressure wave that gives the rapid its name. He attempted 3-5 rolls as he washed downstream. As he did this, he was pushed to the right just downstream of Volkswagen Rock (A,B). He came out of his kayak just above a giant rock that guards the bottom of the right-side eddy. As he bailed out, his face appeared for an instant before he was pushed under the right corner of the rock (C).
Photo shows Flatliner Falls, the site of Carl Schneider's drowning on the Upper Blackwater River in West Virginia on October 2, 2010.This classic Class V run was running at 400 cfs, a high but commonly run level, when a group of 7 expert paddlers put in below the falls. Mr. Schneider missed a boof and washed over a 6’ ledge sideways. His bow hit rocks at the bottom, and the left side of his boat washed against an underwater rock shelf protruding from the ledge (foreground). It was an angled vertical pinning, with the current forcing him against his back deck. There was no air pocket.
On August 29th Susan Marie Kaiser paddled the “Lowbin” section of the North Fork of the Feather in an inflatable kayak. According to postings in Boof.com, Ms. Kaiser, a former river guide, flipped her IK on a large breaking wave near the bottom in a long Class IV rapid below the first (Bucks Creek) power house. The current pushed her to the left where she pinned in a slot between a large boulder and a smaller submerged boulder to its left. One of the paddlers in her group managed to swim into the small pocket eddy behind the boulder and tried to pull her out, but she was wedged in too tightly. The photo by Jeff Sailus shows a kayak pinned in the same spot.
River outfitters and American Whitewater joined together decades ago to protect the Gauley River from hydro development. The success of these business enterprises were one of the key reasons that the river was protected as a National Recreation Area. But with success has come new challenges. Professional guides find the number of kayakers on the Upper Gauley overwhelming at times and kayakers also find the number of rafts intimidating. Regardless of any “right of way”, it’s everyone’s job to avoid crashes! Here’s what you can do to avoid collisions with commercial rafts.
A research program initiated by the MIT Sloan School of Management (USA) and Copenhagen Business School (Denmark) seeks to study open innovation in sport communities.
On Friday, July 24, 2009, American Whitewater signed a settlement agreement with South Carolina Electric & Gas Company and a suite of other organizations and agencies that resolves issues regarding the management of Lake Murray Dam for the next 50 years. Lake Murray Dam regulates flows in the popular Saluda River, as it flows through Columbia, South Carolina. AW was represented by Charlene Coleman throughout this process and the exciting agreement signed last week is a testament to her hard work and creativity.
Sudden death is a charged emotional event, often compounded by trauma among those who witness a drowning accident or try to rescue or resuscitate someone. Few people realize how little time you have for a successful drowning rescue. The sad facts are that unless a drowning person is pulled out within 6-10 minutes of going under, their chances are almost zero. Anger or displaced anger towards rescue and recovery efforts are not unusual. Excellent Resources for managing sudden death grief and trauma can be found on the Higgins & Langley website. These pamphlets, created by the Royal Hospital Foundation in Belfast, Northern Island, can be downloaded as needed
Keep this number for assistance in the Great Smoky Mountains Nation Park - (865) 436-1230. This number connects to the Park Dispatch Office and should be used in non-emergency situations. For boaters who regularly paddle in the Park it is advisable to program the number in your cell phone.
River Rescue is back in print! The 4th edition of Slim Ray’s authoritative reference for whitewater paddlers is better than ever. There’s lots of new material in its 292 fact-filled pages. Here's where you can find the tools and techniques you'll need to deal with any emergency. The book covers self-rescue and rescue of others by hand, boat, rope, and more It includes sections on leadership, teamwork, patient care, evacuation, and more. You'll see new photos and first-hand accounts of rescues and an expanded section on big-water rescue. Price is $24.95 + $4 s/h. The easiest way is to go to the web site, where you can use your credit card. http://www.cfspress.com/order.htm
Slim Ray, CFS Press; 8 Pelham Road, Asheville, NC 28803; 828-505-2917; firstname.lastname@example.org
American Whitewater is looking for more story and photo contributions from canoeists, rafters, and C1ers. If you've always wished our magazine highlighted more folks who paddle like you do--with a single blade--this is your chance to make it happen.
The Higgins and Langley Memorial Awards in Swiftwater Rescue honor outstanding achievement in the technical rescue discipline of swiftwater and flood rescue. They are not heroism awards, but rather recognize preparedness, teamwork, and a job well done, sometimes under extreme conditions, where training is vital to the success of rescue missions, as well as the safety of rescue personnel.
The awards were established in 1993 by members of the Swiftwater Rescue Committee of the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) in honor of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the flood-swollen Los Angeles River, and Jeffrey Langley, a Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighter-paramedic and swiftwater rescue pioneer, who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993.
There is a special page on the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund website that features a series of outstanding information brochures about sudden death grief and trauma. The brochures were produced by the Royal Hospitals Trauma Advisory Council in Ireland:
Sudden Death - Grief and Trauma Brochures
http://higginsandla ngley.org/ death_grief_ information. shtml
The brochures will no longer be available on the Royal Hospitals website, as the Trauma Advisory Council is ending in August. We received permission to feature the brochures on our website - they are among the best resources I've found online that focus on sudden death grief and trauma.
The information is broken into three groups - for families who have suffered a sudden death loss, for professionals dealing with these families, and for schools that have children in attendance who are grieving. The brochures are also divided by age group, which is very helpful.
Eventually, this information will be featured on the new Drowning Support Network web site.
There is a special page on the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund website that features a series of outstanding information brochures about sudden death grief and trauma. The brochures were produced by the Royal Hospitals Trauma Advisory Council in Ireland. they are among the best resources online that focus on sudden death grief and trauma.
Sudden Death - Grief and Trauma Brochures
The Sumter National Forest told AW today to expect even more delays in the release of their
Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding recreational use in the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga
River corridor. Now a full year late, and fraught with problems, it is unclear when
the EA will be released.
A CNN story on whitewater rafting deaths published in September 2006 omits the fact that most of the fatalities cited by the article did not occur on commercial raft trips, said to David Brown, Executive Director of America Outdoors (AO). America Outdoors is a national association of outfitters, which includes many whitewater rafting companies. The story cites 50 whitewater deaths and infers that they were on commercial rafting trips due to lax state regulation. Brown says his data shows 10 fatalities on guided, commercial raft trips in 2006. None of the deaths on commercial trips were the result of a customer not wearing a life jacket. Of the eight rafting deaths cited in Oregon by CNN, none were on a commercially guided trip.