Incident 20030222

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20030222?, 22 February 2003 17:00?, Fatal accident? / Entrapment-Sieve?
Victim?: GBR, 27, Male
Location?: Otago/Waikaia?

Class?: IV-V
Flow?: 20cu , "Medium"
Boat Type?: Kayak-Creek/Dagger 'CFS'
Trip Type?: Private


A three-person team reached a rapid approximately 2.5 hours below Canton Bridge. One paddler gave verbal instructions for running a drop to his two companions from a flat-topped rock instream. Both companions ran drop, and one swam. As the two companions recovered from the swim, they became concerned about the victim's absence.

The two paddlers could see that the third paddler had left the boulder and blew their whistles to attract his attention. After approximately five minutes, one paddler paddled and then walked upstream, where he discovered the victim vertically pinned in a narrow slot three metres to river right from the boulder from which the first paddler had scouted the rapid. The victim was conscious and moving and could grab breaths by raising his head above the water.

Both companions grabbed their safety gear. A throwbag was thrown to the victim who appeared to be showing signs of cyanosis ( They managed to get a rope to the victim but pulling on the rope was ineffective. The spray-deck was on. One paddler managed to manoevre so that he could stand across the slot and pull on the victim's PFD but to no avail. The victim was now unconscious. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was attempted and a rope was clipped to a shoulder strap of the victim's PFD. Both rescuer's pulled on the rope but the PFD eventually rode up above the victim's head.

The rope was transferred from the PFD to the rear grab-loop on the victim's kayak, but pulling from various angles was ineffective. Next a sling was placed around the victim's chest and tension applied via the rope but this was not effective either. Additional mouth-to-mouth was performed.

In desperation, one paddler jumped on the victim's kayak while the second held the rope attached to the chest-sling. Both the kayak and victim disappeared from view. The rescuer on the kayak passed through the slot and discovered a tree across the current as he made his way out via an undercut on river right. The victim slipped from the chest sling. One rescuer held the other's feet as the latter tried to locate the victim under the boulder. Meanwhile the victim's empty kayak washed out from under a boulder on river left.

After the victim had not been sighted for approximately 5-10 minutes, the other paddlers searched where possible, but eventually abandoned the search. They stashed their gear and bush-bashed downriver, overnighting near a swingbridge. At dawn they reached the road where they flagged down a car and alerted authorities. The body was recovered by SAR personnel that morning via helicopter, approximately 150m from the accident site.


The team was fit, experienced and well-equipped, and were paddling appropriate kayaks.

It is not known when the dent in the victim's kayak occurred, but if it occurred in the slot it may have prevented his exit.

It is not clear how the victim came to be in the slot. Once in the slot, it appears that the victim awaited assistance rather than risk making the situation worse by wet-exiting. According to the MSA report, hypothermia does not appear to have been a factor.

The MSA report says Although at the time it would have seemed quite reasonable for Kayaker 1 [the victim] to seal-launch back into the river when Kayaker 2 and Kayaker 3 appeared in need of assistance, this decision to do so was ultimately a contributing factor to his demise. He could have chosen to walk his boat 5-10 metres down stream over the rocks and seal launch into the pool on river right.

Friends tried frantically to free trapped kayaker, 9 September 2003, Cherie Sivignon, The Southland Times.
Rescue efforts in vain, 9 September 2003, Anonymous, ODT. (Copy & paste link)
MSA Report 030972 (PDF, 180k)
Army officer dies in kayak accident, 27 February 2003, Richard Savill, Telegraph.
Army canoe expert swept to his death, 27 February 2003, Simon de Bruxelles, Times Online.
'Pal did his best to save our son', 28 February 2003, Anila Baig.
English kayaker dies after being caught in rapids, 24 February 2003
English kayaker dies in river rapids, 24 February 2003, Anonymous, ODT. (Copy & paste link)

Reported by?: Jonathan Hunt
Created: 2003-11-15, changed: 2005-01-09.