Canadian Canoe Routes

Accident Report & Safety Reminder
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Author:  yarnellboat [ May 12th, 2008, 5:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Accident Report & Safety Reminder

Hi all,

In other threads here and elsewhere (cboats), I've recently posted a few comments about river safety and safety equipment (nothing gets passed Siren1), and here's why - my club just had a scary experience, but it's a success story and a reminder that we can all benefit from...

Regards, Pat.

Foot entrapment, Chilliwack River, May 4th, 2008

On a whitewater day-trip on a class II-III section of the Chilliwack River east of Vancouver, a canoe club experienced a serious safety incident: a life-threatening foot entrapment. Fortunately, it ended well. For the purpose of sharing this experience as a safety reminder, this report presents one perspective from the scene and highlights a few key observations. The group included 6 solo canoes, a kayak and a tandem canoe . . .

The Scene
In the middle of an easy class III rock garden our friend broached on a mid-river boulder. He came out of his solo canoe, had his foot wedged in the V of a submerged cottonwood trunk that was wrapped around the base of the rock, and he became stuck while going around the river-left side of the large boulder.

Wedged his foot while travelling in front of the rock perpendicular to the main current, then forced downstream. Wedged in a relatively small tree, which had enough spring to act like a vice.

The group immediately recognized the trouble and had a sweep boat into the eddy behind the boulder, and a group of 4 assembling on the nearby river-left shore. The tandem and one solo were already through the rapid and waited within sight downstream.

The Reality
Luckily, the victim’s head & shoulders were out of the water and he was able to get some support from the boulder. However, he was in a strong current and it was obvious that he could neither free himself nor maintain his energy indefinitely. His survival was dependent on the actions of his paddling partners.

The Rescue
At the rock, the victim & rescuer were barely able to clasp fingers, but they could talk. Across the river within a throw-rope’s length (10-15m), it was nearly impossible to shout to the on-shore rescuers. With one rescuer on the boulder and others able to hit the rock with throw ropes, it was soon established that the quick & easy methods of simple force were not going to free the trapped swimmer. Not even close.

Trying to unpin the sunken tree that held the victim’s ankle emerged as the next available option. On one hand, it was very lucky that the specific structure of the river allowed this to be set up, even that it allowed a rescuer up onto the boulder at all; on the other hand, the layout made other rescue options impossible or useless. With a rope & caribiner thrown from shore, the rescuer on the boulder was able to attach a line to the single accessible branch of the tree, off the river-right part of the boulder. The shore team had set up a hauling system to attempt a “Z-drag” on the tree.

The hauling was not rewarding. There were flashes of time that allowed for feelings of helplessness. The victim & rescuer at the rock tried several more futile attempts to influence things from the boulder; another rescuer began work on anchoring a support line for the victim; and after the hauling lines were adjusted, 3 rescuers were barely able to gain critical inches and force the submerged tree to budge!

For some, these were the scariest seconds - the tree came off the rock with the victim still firmly attached, and lurched downriver with the victim now being dragged underwater. For others, it had been the “sameness” of the entrapment that was scariest, and the sudden rush of water and panic as the tree released was a deep relief: it didn’t matter what happened after that, as long as the tree was pulled loose, because there was nothing to lose. And the tree was still on a rope, although the throw ropes must’ve been stressed to their max.

The Finish
Once the tree was loose, rescuers reached the victim in seconds and got him supported behind a small rock in very shallow current. The worst was over and the group took some deep breaths to reassure themselves. Once they’d collected themselves for a second, the victim instructed some rescuers on how to rotate the tree without hurting his leg, and they were able, with some effort, to pull his foot from the tree.

Now out of the river, rescuers tended to the victim, assessing his injured ankle and his general state – which was excellent, all things considered. He was very strong throughout, physically and mentally, which was a major contribution to the successful outcome.

Rescuers went about collecting their ropes & gear and quietly exchanged thank-yous and handshakes, and a few knowing looks. In time it was decided that the victim and the whole group were able to walk to the bottom of the rapid, re-unite with the others who had picked up loose boats & gear, and paddle the short, flat section to the top of the next rapid (Trailer Park), where there is road access.

One rescuer waited there with the victim, for what must have been an emotional and surreal sit, while the group continued a short distance to the next take-out. It was decided at the scene that the group would neither retrieve the caribiner & rope that was left on the tree, nor would anybody paddle the class III Tamihi Rapid. (Other local paddling groups were later informed about the tree and the loose rope in the river.)

Now the group thanks each other, shares perspectives, re-plays the events, asks questions, celebrates their success, and can’t believe their luck. They get scared, they get mad, and above all, they thank each other again. And, although they hope to never see another entrapment, they plan improvements for the next time.

No doubt they were lucky. Everything they tried involved imperfections and a chance of failure. But there’s truth to the saying that “you have to be good to be lucky”. Without the ropes, caribiners and pulleys they were carrying, without the studying and practicing they’d done, even without the drysuits, they wouldn’t have given themselves a fighting chance.

The event underscored some obvious golden rules: respect wood, lean onto a broach, don’t ever put your feet down, be prepared, and, above all, accidents happen. It also tested the paddlers’ comfort levels with the rescue equipment they carry, how they carry it, and whether they know how to use it under pressure.

This accident didn’t happen on the hardest rapid and it didn’t happen to a weak paddler, which highlights the fact that any of us could be called upon to respond to such an emergency on the river. Or, conversely, that any of us could need to call upon those with whom we paddle.

On that day this group was just good enough to be lucky. It’s fortunate that this can be remembered as a positive learning experience for the paddling community - experience that’s so valuable to have, yet so unsettling to gain first hand.

So, don't take your safety for granted. Please remember to paddle in a capable group and to carry the necessary rescue gear, keep it handy and practice how to use it.

Author:  jedi jeffi [ May 12th, 2008, 6:04 pm ]
Post subject:  rescue

:clap: :clap: :clap:
Great to hear you had a happy ending!
One can only hope you inspired others to take a moving water rescue course.
We in Ontario don't have to look too far for that type of incident.
Forgot the river name in eastern Ontario last year, but beginner rated trip with current and tree and an unhappy ending.
In 74 I had a close encounter of the scary kind (got to the guppy stage) at the bottom of Tamahi in flood.
(guppy stage = can't hold breathe any more)
I wonder if my destroyed boat is still a planter there...
So now you know why if you see me I have the jewelry (prusex, biners and pulleys)
Take a course help a friend!
Thanks for this Yarnellboat :clap:

Author:  littleredcanoe [ May 12th, 2008, 6:46 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thank you for that post ..a good reminder to always prepare for the worst.
Preparation is everything.. accidents can happen to all of us.

Sometimes its our me putting the wiffle ball inside the skirt and not being able to exit the kayak..panicked.. no roll.

Friends with a river knife saved me.

Author:  RHaslam [ May 12th, 2008, 7:21 pm ]
Post subject: 

Best post in quite a while. I really appreciate your sharing of this incident. It's information like this that makes this site invaluable.

Author:  Dan. [ May 12th, 2008, 9:55 pm ]
Post subject: 

Wow,.... I consider myself pretty proficiant with ropes, pulleys and such; but would I be able to act in such a time senstive situation? I don't know....

That is pretty much the scariest situation I can imagine. I don't know if I would have risked moving the log. The thought of having someone pinned under a sweeped scared the crap out of me.

My rescue kit has also dwindled as I have become more complacent. It has now devolved into a snickers bar and a throwbag. I am ashamed to say that I don't even carry a whistle anymore. Thanks for the wakeup call. I will definatly start carryign the gear again..

BTW this spring is the second time I have had to cut up a perfectly good throwrope for use as a prussik. People, please remember that without prussicks, your pully is useless!

Thanks for the reminder Pat!

Author:  nigel [ May 12th, 2008, 10:56 pm ]
Post subject: 

Just curious. In the climbing world, there's an annual publication that examines as many climbing injuries, accidents and deaths as the editors can find out. It makes for interesting and worthwhile reading (in the but for the grace of god, kind of way). Is there an equivalent canoeing or WW one?

The cdn version is here btw, but not updated as often

Author:  yarnellboat [ May 12th, 2008, 11:58 pm ]
Post subject: 

Yes, not strictly a Canadian source, but a variety of reports recorded by American Whitewater: ... dent_view_


Author:  SGrant [ May 20th, 2008, 12:43 am ]
Post subject: 


We have friends who run a rafting business on the Chilliwack, and we spent the weekend at their operation.

They had noticed the tree stuck on the rock, and had decided to remove it partly for safety and partly as a training exercise for their guides. However, when they arrived at the rock apparently a few hours after the incident, the tree was gone. They had also heard from Western Canoeing that there had been an incident, and suspected that was the site when they noticed a throwbag or rope still in the river at the rock.

They were glad to receive my link to your writeup here, and felt your group handled the situation well.

I asked them if they carried a swedesaw, and they said they had just added one to their safety gear as a result of this incident. Of course, I don't know if it would have helped here, but in some situations a saw would be the ticket.

Author:  yarnellboat [ May 20th, 2008, 12:46 pm ]
Post subject: 

Wow, what a coincidence - too bad your friends lounged around so long after brunch, they coulda had some live practice! We were going from Thurston Meadows to Tamihi, so our incident took place pretty near the end of run and after we'd stopped for lunch, so we might've been there around 2pm or maybe even later, just a guess.

A saw (which I don't carry, but some friends do) was one of many things that I thought about, but which wouldn't have worked in this particular case: the trunk wasn't accessible at all - too deep and in too strong a current.

But it is good to have lots of tools in the box - the river makes many options impossible, but will maybe present others, so you've got to be flexible in your preparation and your thinking.


Author:  yarnellboat [ August 19th, 2008, 3:21 am ]
Post subject: 

This past week on these popular canoeing runs on the Chilliwack near Vancouver, 2 young women drown in separated on-river (but not canoeing) accidents.

One was a tuber who got caught under a tree or log jam, not sure which. She wasn't wearing a lifejacket. Not sure whether beer was involved, but it's often part of that tubing scene. I'm actually surprised this doesn't happen more often, as there are close calls all the time - and the tubers don't even realize it! Some other tubers were able to reach the victim briefly, but weren't able to get her out. While crews were filming a news story about the death they were interviewing a father and daughter who had just had a close call, and during the interview some other hollering kids barely managed to stay out of trouble. It's scary, and maddening to see. (Or maybe I'm just bitter because last time we were out canoeing a group of fun-loving, beer-swilling tubers were mocking us for wearing wetsuits, lifejackets, helmets and not drinking.) Anyway...

The other was a woman on a guided rafting trip in a class III boulder garden at low levels - nothing too wild. She was obviously wearing proper equipment and had capable rescuers nearby, but somehow she got trapped under water on some unidentified "river debris". The details haven't come out yet, but the chances are that she tried to stand up or otherwise put her feet down - in which case a PFD a helmet don't help. I wish the media would mention that - they make it sound like everything should be OK just becasue you're wearing a PFD, but there's more to it than that. I'm not sure to what extent the rafting companies drill "don't stand up" to their clients or make them practice swimming. By all accounts this was a responsible company and just an unfortunate accident. But I have seen some gong shows of guided people in inflatables swimming and flailing around in those rapids. This one was right near a bridge and campsite, so unfortunately lots of people witnessed the unsuccseful rescue attempt, which would also be difficult. Not to mention for the other rafters and the guides and other rescuers. I'm glad I wasn't there this weekend.

So, sad week for many river people in BC this week. My thoughts are with the families and friends.

So, another of the same reminder - respect wood and keep your feet up!


Author:  Rockie [ August 19th, 2008, 11:27 am ]
Post subject: 

In cases like these, would it be a good practice to carry a piece of clear neoaprene tubing to act as a breathing tube. In the event that there was a pinning with the victim submersed, the tube could be placed in the victims mouth to provide an air way allowing valuable time for the rescurers to access the situation and respond accordingly.
This could be incorpoporated as a piece of a rescue kit that would take up little space, but be a valuable asset if required in an emergency. Just a thought.

Author:  h2sk1 [ August 19th, 2008, 3:38 pm ]
Post subject: 

Rockie wrote:
In cases like these, would it be a good practice to carry a piece of clear neoaprene tubing to act as a breathing tube. In the event that there was a pinning with the victim submersed, the tube could be placed in the victims mouth to provide an air way allowing valuable time for the rescurers to access the situation and respond accordingly.
This could be incorpoporated as a piece of a rescue kit that would take up little space, but be a valuable asset if required in an emergency. Just a thought.

Hmmm. You should try this at a pool first. You'd be surprised to find that a tube is basically useless at depths of around 3-4 feet. As an experiment, take a piece of garden hose or something like that and see how deep you can go -- the water pressure on your lungs is high enough in shallow water that it is difficult, if not impossible to breath. Your diaphragm and chest are not able to create enough vacuum to pull in air from the surface.

I've tried this experiment with various sized tubes as part of my scuba training. Very enlightening.

Now maybe you're suggesting FORCING air from the surface into the victims mouth. This implies a non-breathing victim, and a good way of sealing the tube around a submerged person's mouth, while keeping the airway open. Tricky, to say the least, and probably impossible. I'm guessing that you're actually doing more harm than good by forcing water down into the lungs.

Author:  Erhard [ August 19th, 2008, 5:16 pm ]
Post subject: 

Tricky, to say the least, and probably impossible.

That's what I would vote for. Can you picture someone submerged after a hairy dumping, stuck under water and in pain, maybe coming up for air in longer and longer intervals, scared out of his wits from fear of dying? I think he'd have a better chance in strangling you driven by panic than you feeding him air through the hose.....

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