Fayetteville, WV, USA – Gauley River – Swiftwater Rescue Account – 2010/10/10

On October 10, 2010 I awoke in river camp after a restful morning. I didn’t have commercial work for the day and remember saying to my friends, “I don’t feel good about the river today,” and opted to go for a hike. A few others agreed to hike, and we decided to hike into Pillow Rapid to watch the boaters travel through. Less than five minutes there I uttered a sentence as we watched the boaters, that I now regret, “Man, I was expecting more carnage down here today.” My friend replied, “That kayaker is getting ready to swim.” I looked to see a kayaker below the meat of pillow rapid unsuccessfully attempting to roll, while drifting to river right. I saw him partially roll, take a breath and breech against a rock. His boat developed a weightless appearance and I knew he had popped his skirt. With watchful eyes, we didn’t see the swimmer arise. I was in motion, running down the bank while evaluating the risk/benefit and potential rescue options as I ran down the bank. I decided I was okay with a high degree of personal risk.

I’d been through the gap the kayaker pinned in more than once, at times voluntarily on my river board, once involuntarily after a swim and parked my craft there numerous times and looked at the features. There was one person in the water, who had ahold of the kayaker that was pinned under a rock, with one person backing him up by holding onto his PFD shoulder straps. I elected to move to the rock and hold onto the person backing up the swimmer and began to shout for paddles, ropes and boats to assist us with the rescue, while attempting to track the time the kayaker had been under water. Eventually we were able to summon a raft, that wedged itself on the upstream side of the gap between our rock and the pin rock. I was able to get ahold of the victims leg and began to pull on it from the raft platform, but the kayaker was not dislodging. I worked my hand up his leg to acquire his shorts, praying internally that his shorts would not rip as I pulled on them against the current. They didn’t rip. With two or three of us pulling upriver, he came free. We pulled him onto the raft, approximately five minutes after he had gone under.

As we pulled him up, he was pulseless, apneic (not breathing), pale/cyanotic (blue) with pupils fixed and dilated. We excised his upper layers, began CPR and transferred him to a rock on the shoreline. Our barrier device for the ventilations was a pocket shield, which was difficult to acquire and maintain a seal with. We continued CPR. Eventually the local EMS equipment began to show-up, with another medic in tow. After additional resuscitation efforts a field-pronouncement was performed and we packaged the victim for evacuation.

Lessons learned:

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  • 1) Risk – I calculated and assumed a high degree of personal risk in this rescue effort. Why? There were multiple factors (justifications) that I used:  a) This was a potential high-reward situation. I witnessed him go under and felt that if we were to recover him in a timely manner that we had a high probability of a positive patient outcome. b) I felt I was adequately familiar with that specific location…. currents, hazards, shore, etc. that I could safely navigate the terrain and exit the water should I go in. c) Several weeks earlier, while boating in a group on the upper at extremely low water levels (<200 cfs) a kayaker and close friend in the group became trapped under a rock. His tenaciousness, the power-that-be and our response resulted in him living, though it was very close. I felt I was too slow in my response to that situation, and evaluated how I could have performed better. I vowed to do so the next time a similar situation arose. This was very similar. Lesson: No rescuers were injured in this. However, if I had been injured or killed, the rescue community would have noted that I did not take NECESSARY precautions. Please do not do this.
  • 2) CPR Face Shield versus Face Mask – It was very difficult to acquire and maintain a good seal, and subsequently ventilate the patient adequately with the simple face shield. I encourage everyone that has the space and weight capacity in their kit to carry an actual face mask. River medical kits and vehicle medical kits certainly have the space for a face mask.

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Here is the American Whitewater review.

http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/3415/

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