Incident 19991024

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19991024?, 24 October 1999 16:00?, Fatal accident? / Entrapment-Tree?
Victim?: NZ, 13, Male
Location?: Canterbury/Waiau/Lower Waiau?

Class?: II
Flow?: 197cu , "High"
Boat Type?: Inflatable/Funyak
Trip Type?: Commercial


An afternoon commercial trip consisting of two funyaks, one raft and one safety kayaker on the Waiau in Canterbury. A 13-year old and 12-year old were in a funyak and they hit a bluff. One person dropped their paddle and they drifted into a strainer (trees on island) and flipped. One person was trapped underwater. The other drifted past the strainer and was picked up by another funyak paddler.

Both guides attempted to extract the victim. A passing jetboat was flagged down, but swamped when it floated onto the trees. A second jetboat arrived with a chainsaw and the victim was freed after approx. 15 minutes of going under. CPR was administered on the bank, and the victim was airlifted to Christchurch hospital but never recovered.

The flow at the time of the accident was 197cu (at Marble Point, approx. 8km below Ferry Bridge), as the river declined from a Spring flood peak of 349cu that occurred at 3am that morning. The mean flow for the year is 98cu and a mean for October is 151cu. (Data obtained from ECAN.)


It's not possible on the documented evidence to say flow was a factor, but it may have contributed to the original capsize, the entrapment and the challenges of rescue (Recommendation 1.25).

Any group putting onto a river should have sufficient rescue skills and equipment to deal with emergency situations; in this case it is not clear whether a river-saw, strong-swimmer rescue or other techniques might have been effective (Recommendation 1.9).

An inflatable kayak paddled by novices is appropriate in only the most benign conditions (Recommendation 1.24).

There are significant deficiencies in the MSA investigation. The MSA report:

  • Provides no flow data.
  • Doesn't mention what, if any, rescue gear the group carried. Did the commercial group have any capacity for rescue for an entrapment scenario? If not, why not?
  • Doesn't mention any experience or qualifications of those involved.
  • States that 5 minutes elapsed between hitting the bluff and hitting the tree. Either the lost paddle should have been remedied during that time or the times stated are inaccurate.
  • Makes no mention of the danger represented by the capsize of the jetboat. In any rescue situation it's important that no further harm is done.

The MSA report's recommendation, "The guide giving the briefing should ensure that the serious consequences of losing a paddle are drawn the participant's attention [sic]" is unhelpful to the wider paddling community. Of more interest is whether the high flow was a contributing factor, whether an inflatable kayak was a suitable choice of craft for the conditions, was the group adequately equipped and skilled for the trip, what rescue techniques were applied and why were they ultimately unsuccessful?

MSA Report 990356 (PDF, 81k)
Rafting guide unable to stop son drowning, 26 October 2003, ODT. (Copy & paste link)

Reported by?: Jonathan Hunt
Created: 2004-02-11, changed: 2004-02-11.