Incident 20030328

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20030328?, 8 March 2003 19:00?, Fatal accident? / Swim?
Victim?: NZ, 54, Male
Location?: Otago/Kawarau/Kawarau Falls?

Class?: I
Flow?: Unknown, "Low"
Boat Type?: Other/Perception 'Minnow'
Trip Type?: Private


A middle-aged man set out alone from Frankton marina, Queenstown for an evening paddle to the Shotover/Kawarau confluence. When passing under the Kawarau Falls bridge (through one of last two of the channels towards the campground), victim apparently became trapped in a reversal (hole) formed by the weir between the bridge pylons. His body was discovered 250m below the bridge shortly after, with the PFD covering his face. CPR was administered without success. His boat, paddle and spraydeck were subsequently recovered at various points downstream.


The victim was unable to eskimo roll, but that may not have been a contributing factor.
The victim was adequately equipped for the trip, but his PFD may not have been well fitted/designed.
He was unfamiliar with the section of river.
A large sign (intended for jetboats) indicating "Down Traffic This Way" is positioned above channel 2 (counting from the southern end of the bridge).
Channel 2 contains a powerful reversal at some (possibly all) flows.

The NZRCA recommends that kayakers don't paddle alone.
Seek local knowledge of conditions and hazards before embarking on an unfamiliar section (Recommendation 1.1).
Ensure PFDs are secure and well-fitting (Recommendation 1.5).
Have sufficient knowledge to re cognise hazards (esp. those formed by artificial structures) (Recommendation 1.27).
At certain lake levels, weirs in specific channels below the Kawarau Falls bridge can form lethal hydraulics.
New warning signage has been placed on the bridge, directing kayakers to a safe channel.
With reference to the ODT headlines below, the hydraulic involved was a 'reversal' not a 'whirlpool'.

MSA Report 030994 (PDF, 180k)
Death of kayaker likely caused by whirlpool, Otago Daily Times, 16 August 2003.
Warning issued: No kayaking, swimming. Lake level poses hazard at bridge gates, Otago Daily Times, 15 April 2003.
Whirlpool may of caught man, 2 April 2003, Debbie Jamieson, ODT. (Copy & paste link)

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