Victim?: NZ, 45, Male
Location?: West Coast/Hokitika/Kakariki Canyon?
Four kayakers from a group of 14 put-on in a large pool approx. 200m upstream of the helicopter landing site. Two paddlers successfully ran the first drop (a small hole), but the third came through off-balance and capsized in aerated water on the eddyline. The paddler rolled up but consequently descended the second drop backwards. The paddler again capsized, washed past a rock and wet-exited.
The fourth paddler reached the swimmer but could not push the kayak clear of the current before the third drop (a 1m watefall) approx. 25m above the helicopter landing site. The victim went over the drop in 'whitewater swimming position' and became caught against the right-hand wall.
A kayak nose was offered but the victim was unable to maintain his grip and slipped below the surface and out of sight. After 5-10 minutes, his PFD flushed-out. After waiting to the point where it was clear the victim had not survived, the group paddled 800m to the entrance of Kakariki Canyon and discovered the body of the paddler in a large eddy on river left. As a result of efforts to move the body downstream, it sank and only became visible at the end of the canyon.
A strong-swimmer rescue was effected and once the victim was ashore several CPR attempts were made but were ineffective (the victim had been underwater for around 45 minutes). Several kayakers paddled out to raise the alarm and the body was extricated by helicopter later that afternoon.
Overall the group were experienced, safety-conscious and well-equipped, though the victim was probably at his limit in the conditions, particularly since he was in a play-boat rather than a creek-boat. A creek-boat may have provided a greater margin of safety (Recommendation 1.24).
The MSA report raised questions regarding lines of responsibility and leadership in the context of a club trip.
The MSA report recommends that paddlers jettison equipment if it could enable retrieval of a swimmer before going over a drop (ie. the priority for rescue is the person).
It is not clear whether a strong-swimmer rescue or tagline rescue was attempted after the victim disappeared from view in the pour-over.
MSA Report 010755 (PDF, 136k)
Sea kayak guide drowns in river, 20 November 2001, The Press.
Graham's view on the Lower Hokitika, Graham Charles, NZ Canoeing 02.2, Autumn 2002
Tragedy on the Lower Hokitika, Vladimir Filipovic, NZ Canoeing 02.1, Summer 2002
Created: 2003-12-05, changed: 2003-12-05.