Incident 20000108

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20000108?, 8 January 2000 16:30?, Fatal accident? / Entrapment-Sieve?
Victim?: USA, 37, Male
Location?: West Coast/Hokitika/Upper Hokitika/Several km below Mungo River?

Class?: IV-V
Flow?: Unknown, "Low"
Boat Type?: Kayak-Touring/Dagger Redline
Trip Type?: Private


An experienced group of eight international kayakers helicoptered into the Upper Hokitika (via Mungo River) for the second descent (over two days). Halfway through the first day, all paddlers except one got out to inspect a set of rapids from the bank, around 2-3km upstream of Frisco canyon. The paddler on the water successfully ran the rapid after receiving verbal instructions. A second paddler ran the rapid with no problems. The third paddler received instructions from the first paddler, but on his run the third paddler subbed-out in a chute and pinned, submerged, against a rock. It appears that he released his paddle and exited the kayak, but quickly kayak and paddler were out of sight.

The other paddlers were swiftly in position to effect a rescue (< 1 minute). Several jumped into the eddy above but could not assist. Attempts to snag the victim or boat were unsuccessful, so a z-drag or other rope-based extraction could not be utilised. After an hour of fruitless rescue attempts, the group continued the run to Serpentine Hut, where they could radio for assistance.

The victim's body was eventually recovered on January 10, on the third effort at extrication. Several grappling hooks were straightened when pulled due to the water pressure. A 3:1 pulley-system with four people pulling was eventually used to extract the body. The water pressure was too great to recover the kayak.


The victim was experienced, well-equipped and in a strong party.

If the volume and design of the kayak were not contributing factors, then the victim was desperately unlucky:

  • since his line was close to that of the two succesful previous paddlers.
  • to become entrapped in a rock-sieve that was not an obvious hazard.
  • to be out of reach of rescue attempts.

It appears that his companions made a series of heroic rescue attempts that were unsuccesful. It is unclear from the available reports whether a strong-swimmer rescue (with throw-bag tether) was attempted. It is unclear whether a device to hold a carabiner open on the end of a paddle blade could have been used successfully.

The NZRCA rejects the assertion by MSA that the the knowledge of the kayakers rescue techniques was negligible (MSA, 1999). On the evidence available, it is not possible to draw that conclusion. Given the years of experience of the group, such a conclusion would be surprising.

Deposition of Alan Hendrikson, 23 March 2000.
Deposition of Marc Lyle, 9 January 2000.
Upper Hokitika drowning, Chris Emerick
MSA Report 990434 (PDF, 43k)
River victims kayak-rodeo visitors, 11 January 2000, Peter Christian, Press.
Deaths show kayaking river danger , 10 January 2000, Tara Ross, Press.

Reported by?: Jonathan Hunt
Created: 2003-11-15, changed: 2003-12-04.