Incident 20040414

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20040414?, 14 April 2004 11:00?, Near-miss? / Entrapment-Other?
Victim?: NZ, 37, Male
Location?: West Coast/Oparara/First drop below Moria Arch?

Class?: IV-V
Flow?: Unknown, "Medium"
Boat Type?: Kayak-Creek/Eskimo Salto
Trip Type?: Private

Summary?:

A party of four experienced paddlers put onto the Oparara river. Three of us attended an advanced white water safety course together last year. We all had safety equipment and creek boats. We started on the river at around 10am with plenty of food.

We had heard that the top half of the river was "stressfull" thanks to the limestone features etc. and had noted that the guidebook specifically mentioned log-jams and rock-jams in this section which posed danger to kayakers. Nevertheless after a relaxing float down through some beautiful scenery we had an epic on the very first drop.

We came to a tight chute with a small drop between a cliff and a large rock. We ummed and aahhed a bit at the top of the drop. We could see a pool below and everything looked nice and peaceful down below. There was a horizon line but we could see the bottom. After a bit of boat scouting the first person ran the drop. It looked a bit ugly with lots of boat, paddle and person hitting rock but he stayed upright and was soon looking up at the others from the bottom of the drop. He sort of vaguely indicated an undercut. After a slight delay, the second paddler had a similar run down, tight and bumpy but made the pool at the bottom.

The third paddler dropped down over the horizon line and promptly disappeared completely into a slot beneath the big rock. After a very unpleasant ten seconds for all of the team the paddler climbed up out of the water through the same slot he had gone in. The boat was out of sight for at least 15 minutes and once we had caught a glimpse of it we still took 45 minutes and some fancy rope work to extract it. We tried a "strong swimmer" sort-of-thing with someone trying to get up and reach into the slot while attached to a rope; they couldn't get up and couldn't see it. About five minutes of observation was required to see a "flash of red".

Eventually we used an overhanging feature (a big old tree on top of a log) to lower someone in a harness (made from climbing tape) down the side of the rock, dangle them above the flow of water and let them use their arms and feet to manoeuver the boat end out of the slot. We then connected to the loops of the boat with a carabiner on another sling, attached the sling to a throw rope, lifted our hero out of the rapid and then pulled the boat out. The situation was very nasty and very dangerous. Fortunately everyone was OK and we got all of the equipment back too. We had a great day on the rest of the river.

Discussion?:

Don't be overconfident on "easy rapids" just because you are expecting more and feel like you are prepared.
"Switch-on" as soon as you are on the river, not when you think the boating gets hard.
Make sure you can see all the way down a drop/rapid not just the top and the bottom (Recommendation 1.19).
If you see something nasty at the bottom of a drop and your friends are at the top, tell them about it immediately and don't be afraid to advise them to scout or to walk. Just because one person got down doesn't mean everyone else will.
Carrying safety kit and knowing how to use it can save you big dollars when it helps you extract your boat (Recommendation 1.9).

Reported by?: Michael McWhirter
Created: 2004-04-20, changed: 2004-04-20.