|Sent on:||Tuesday, October 9, 2012 6:21 PM|
I have often said that we only have two goals when we paddle. To stay safe and to have fun.
With that in mind, I want to share this story with you and hope we can all learn from it.
On September 29th a lady almost lost her life when she became trapped under a strainer in a class II rapid. I was not there, I have no first hand knowledge but I did follow the story as closely as I could last week. What I have posted below is just the tip of the story but is going to be as accurate as you will get since it is the after action write up by Rob Kelly, a bus driver who became a hero, and the victim.
I DO HAVE A FILE WITH PHOTOS AND VIDEO AND MORE WITNESS REPORTS AND SUCH IF ANY OF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE IT. IT WAS TOO LONG TO SEND THROUGH MEETUPS EMAIL BUT I WOULD BE GLAD TO FORWARD IT TO ANYONE WHO REQUEST IT. I JUST NEED YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS IN YOUR REQUEST SO DO NOT ADDRESS ME THROUGH MEETUP, SEND AN INDIVIDUAL EMAIL TO [address removed]
I will make a few observations based on all that I heard and read last week.
1. The lady who was trapped was NOT A BEGINNER and she was not paddling above her skill level as so many accident victims are.
2. The main rescuer was not paddling, he was driving a shuttle bus when he saw the problem unfolding. He was not wearing a PFD, helmet or any safety gear but he made a decision to risk his life to safe a fellow human. No greater love,,,,,,,,,,,
3. The other paddlers were doing their best to help but could not get to her as fast as Rob.
4. To all appearances she was dead when they got her out of the water but the people involved did not hesitate to start CPR and keep it up until they brought her back. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU TOOK A CPR CLASS?
5. One of the good Samaritans on the shore was trying to help by stopping downstream traffic but instead of signaling stop or emergency he was giving the all clear, come ahead signal. Maybe a bit more refreshers before we launch? Do you know the international river signals?
What can we learn from this?
1. First of all paddling can be a dangerous sport when things go wrong, but then so is any activity so that will never stop me from paddling.
2. The victim was wearing appropriate safety gear to include helmet and PFD. I am sure the PFD played a big part is seeing her through this.
3. One of the rescuers had to grab the unconscious victim and keep her under control through the rapids until they could make it to shore. Two PFDs working together. Another hero on the spot.
4. If you get a chance to see the video of the rescue you will see the water was only about waist deep or a little more. YOU DO NOT NEED DEEP WATER OR HUGE RAPIDS TO GET INTO TROUBLE! STAY ALERT!
5. In Swift Water Rescue training we are taught to move to quickly and deliberately when evaluating a scene and to never put a rescuer in danger. Obviously people like Rob make exceptions, or this event would have turned out very differently. If a victim is under water, someone has to get to them very quickly or death results.
6. When you read the report, note that Rob said he was careful to keep his hips above the strainer. Remember our basic class. Avoid strainers at all cost, but if things go wrong and you find yourself in one, you MUST ALWAYS KEEP YOUR HIPS ABOVE THE STRAINER or you will probably be pulled under it.
7. The strainer in question had been in place for years, on Sept 29 alone at least 5 VERY EXPERIENCED PADDLERS had problems with it to include other pins, just none head down. Since most close calls do not get reported, we have no idea how many people had close calls here over the years. But the "beavers" did attack and remove that particular strainer since humans are not allowed to remove any trees from the river.
I hope you all learn something from this that might help keep you and your paddling partners safe.
Warmest regards to my paddling family, paddle something but stay safe.
John Miller, Organizer
From: Rob Kelly
Sent: Monday, October 01,[masked]:41 PM
Subject: Saturday Upper Nanty Incident...
Here's a quick run through of the incident on Saturday, September 29th 2012 on the Upper Nantahala release. Approximately 1:15 pm while driving upstream, I saw the victim's head shift alarmingly straight under, by a tree that had been an issue for a number of people that day. My view was looking upstream while crossing the bridge, driving upstream. I grabbed my throw rope and went to the tree. Neither she nor the boat were visible, but a bystander was confirming she was under the tree.
A paddler was on river right ( below the tree and was trying to traverse upstream to help. I threw a rope from river left, upstream to try to assist his upstream travel. At this point he was within 20 feet of her. This proved futile. I looked at a boater to my side and saw he had a rescue vest on, and another person had a rope further upstream. I told them to clip on to his quick release and get ready to lower in. My mind started to do the timeline at about three plus minutes and I started to accelerate the effort. Looking upstream, they weren't quite ready yet; so I decided to wade out in the shallow water by the river left bank where I was. It seemed prudent and controlled at that point even though I was not wearing a vest or helmet. My thought was to help assist guiding the lowering and pulling from there. Reassessing the situation, time, and options at hand, it seemed safe enough to continue. My footing was good, and the rapid below was not too aggressive if I had to swim. There were people starting to gather at the bridge, including boaters and ropes.
My travel to the tree was diagonally downstream heading into deeper, swifter current. If it had been lateral, or upstream... it would have been difficult to approach and maintain locomotion and footing. At the very last part of the walk my footing was going, but I had options to avoid the strainer. Not until at the tree could I see any of her boat. The stern tip was about a foot under water and was difficult to make out. I reached along it and felt the tree contact, and continued until I felt her. I was able to swing her torso around the tree and bring her head to the surface. My position ran out of reach and leverage doing that. I let go, reset with my body against the log ( but sure to keep my hips above the water line). This time I was able to bring her up to the surface ( still in the kayak). From an initial get call based on small observations like eyes/skin etc., I thought there was little chance of a rescue. Training, instinct, and hope all made it a no question to give a few rescue breaths before going back to getting her free. 2-4 breaths sealed and were received. At that point it seemed that upward efforts were not going to free her. The tree was like a cantilevered leaf spring and had water and her surface area pushing up, while it's resting shape was pushing down. So we had to go down to get out. With three to four shoves and torques of the kayak she drifted out, still in the boat. I looked up and saw that people were ready below and signaled and shouted to them that she was floating downstream.
They quickly got here to shore. The next part is relayed from others involved because I was running down the road to the eddy that they had her in. They began with compressions and breaths in a less than ideal position. They then carried here to the road and had better access and positioning to administer 2 person CPR. Two respondents, maybe more, were medical professionals with an IV, bag, and other equipment. I took to macro scene management and let them be primary. I made sure a paddler was driving downstream to cell coverage for an EMS call and Rangers. Traffic was a next issue and then getting space around the victim. By this point she had been gurgling, then coughing, progressing to moaning. Slowly she was regaining awareness. With the scene stable, EMS en route, I realized that my other guests and bus were more in the way than helpful. I handed the scene over and drove my guests upstream out of the way.
In summary of timeline. Roughly noted times: 4 minutes from head down to rescue breaths. 8 minutes from head down to compressions. 12 minutes from head down to radial pulse. 20-25 cycles of compressions before breathing. Another 5-10 cycles CPR before radial pulse.
First person account from rescued kayaker
I was having a ball on the river before the incident....this was my first time down the Upper Nanty. It reminded me of a condensed version of Middle Ocoee, tighter and more technical, but not above my skill level. I have done sect 4 Chattooga, and Ocoee, and did not feel uncomfortable at all on Upper Nanty. Kim, one of my fellow paddlers was sweep, and was faithful in being sweep the entire run. If he had not been behind me to hold me up when I got pinned, I would not be here. He certainly did his part and did it well.
Anyways...we did well the entire run until this incident. It was a group of 6 experienced paddlers. It was my first run of upper Nanty, as well as, I believe, 2 others in our group. Everyone did well and looked comfortable on the river. I was paddling down, saw the log, and attempted to go river left but the current took me straight to the log. Looking back, I should have tried to go river right and into the eddy and under the log, which angled at about 45 degrees from the bank into the river. I would have had plenty of clearance to go under, had I went that route.
Kim was behind me, saw me get swept into the log and immediately was beside me, holding me up. From what I understand, we both then were pushed by the strong current, and I disappeared, he got flushed downstream. ( I talked to him on the phone but can't remember the details of his account) He immediately pulled out of his boat and went to the bank to go upstream to help me but I by then was not visible, he was not sure if I had also gotten swept down, or was under the log. I understand that Rob indicated to him that I was under the log, and Kim, though exhausted, continued to make his way up to me.
I recall being under, trying to push up, trying to pop out of my boat, putting my hand up for a rescue....then lost consciousness. Next thing I remember was being in the ambulance, still at the scene. I know that once Rob freed me and my boat, I was floated downstream by Kim, to the bank, where CPR was begun. There are photos and video of the situation, so that will help piece it together. I was resuscitated, taken to a local hospital ED, then transported to Ashville via ambulance. I stayed 2 nights, released when my oxygen sats came up to an acceptable level without supplemental oxygen.
There were many involved in the rescue, from Rob to Kim, Ian, Terri, Sam, and everyone else who assisted. I'm sure there were many other involved but from what I have heard, these were the hands-on rescuers. I am overwhelmingly grateful to them and everybody who played a part in my rescue.