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Old 08-29-2010   #1
 
craven_morhead's Avatar
 
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2004
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Gore Race Accident Report

As many know, one boater had a bad swim at Gore Fest, and had to be transported out of the canyon with the help of the railroad. I think threads about accidents and people's responses to them can be helpful case studies, so here's what happened from my perspective:

I was spectating the race from river left at Gore rapid. A shredder that was in the race dumped at Gore rapid. One of the paddlers ("Paddler") was rescued on river left by a rope. The other swimmer ("Swimmer") continued downstream, and I could see that he swam through Scissors. A rope or two were tossed his way, and the last I saw him he was near a guy in a green boat ("Savior") above Pyrite. Another spectator had mentioned that safety had been set all through Pyrite, so aside from thinking that it wouldn't be a very fun swim, I didn't think much of it. 5 or 10 minutes later our group (Myself, Ian, and Pete) hopped in our boats and eddy-hopped through Scissors and Pyrite. In the eddy below Pyrite, we heard some whistle blasts and headed downstream.

Maybe 50 yards past the Pyrite pool, we saw Savior trying to pull Swimmer onto shore. We jumped out of our boats. Swimmer had his head and shoulders out of the water, but Savior couldn't get him completely onto shore by himself. We weren't sure if Swimmer had a head or neck injury, but we knew we had to get him out of the water, since he was wearing only a short sleeved polypro and swim trunks. We tried to stabilize his head and neck, and we pulled him out of the water.

Savior said that Swimmer came all the way through Pyrite, and was conscious when he was in the pool, but beat up. He grabbed Savior's boat, but then let go and semi-lost consciousness. No other boaters or shore safety was in the area. Savior managed to get Swimmer to shore, though I'm not sure how.

Swimmer was breathing, and semi-coherant. We flagged down a raft that was on its way through, and a few more kayakers. Someone managed to flag down one of the BNSF trucks that was up on the tracks, and told them to get the EMTs from Gore rapid. Meanwhile, Swimmer knew where he was, who he was, and who the president was, but it was taking all he had to answer our questions. I had an emergency blanket in my 1st aid kit; we got that around him, and eventually got his vest and wet polypro off, and replaced them with dry clothes from one of the rafts. Swimmer reported no head injury and no distracting injuries.

Maybe another 10 minutes later, the shore safety members from Gore arrived. We filled them in on what was going on. They took over, went through a series of questions, and confirmed that there wasn't a head/spine injury, which was good, since nobody could track down a backboard.

More people arrived; we probably had 30 or so at this point. Another raft guide (Guide) confirmed no c-spine injuries, and marshaled everyone together to build a litter out of oars, paddles, and cam straps. We got Swimmer onto the litter, and then slowly passed the litter up the scree slope, with a rope attached at the top. When the litter had passed each person, they reset at the top of the line to pass Swimmer up.

Swimmer was loaded into the backseat of one of the BNSF trucks, and driven into Kremmling. After speaking with someone who rode along, it sounds like he was still somewhat out of it for most of the ride, but came around when they got near the ambulance enough to argue against getting in the ambulance. That decision was left to the medics, and it sounds like they took him in to check him out.

My thoughts:

1. I didn't use the pseudonym "savior" for nothing. He saved a life on Saturday.

2. It was a mistake not to have safety set at the pool below Pyrite. I think it's commonly accepted that if you swim at Gore, it's very possible to get washed all the way down into Pyrite and, if you do swim that far, you're going to be pretty beaten up by the time you make it to that pool. Also, as for the fixed safety, someone near the bottom of that rapid should know that they're the last line of defense, to avoid the mentality that there's always someone further downstream to help on race day.

3. I think everyone who arrived on-scene did a commendable job. Things that needed to get done -- get Swimmer out of the water, assess his condition, get him warmed up, and get him out of the canyon -- were accomplished quickly and efficiently, without anyone getting in the way, causing additional problems, or freezing up.

4. Swimmer was not dressed adequately for the run. While a polypro and shorts is nice for the long paddle in to Gore, and while it's tempting to dress lightly on a hot day, everyone should be dressed for a swim. While you would still be plenty beat up after taking the same swim in a drysuit, taking hypothermia out of the equation leaves you with quite a bit more energy.

5. Wilderness EMT training is invaluable. While the first 4 of us on scene knew enough to get Swimmer out of the water, get him warm, and keep him conscious, none of us knew enough to clear him for a c-spine injury.

6. If not for the railroad access, this would have been a much different rescue. Instead of building the litter, we would have had to build a fire, get Swimmer warmed up, and probably get him some food and water. A space blanket and the means to start a fire in wet conditions should be in everyone's first aid kit.
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Old 08-29-2010   #2
 
hojo's Avatar
 
Lakewood, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1989
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I volunteered to help with safety for the race and I would comment that the organization could have been better. In the morning we were left to "sort out" where we were going to be without any real direction or coordination. I volunteered to be on Kirsh and was the only official safety with a rope on that section, save for Todd running the raft shuttle (who did have a bevy of first-aid and training in the event it was needed). Thankfully, when I did have to deploy my rope, several racers who'd hiked up to watch assisted quickly and calmly. 3 of the 4 swimmers self rescued leaving us with only 1 to contend with.

I volunteered for safety out of respect for those who've fished me out from time to time and I'll continue to help. Having said that, I'm leery of signing up to help out with this event next year due to an excess (maybe real, maybe perceived) liability the safety crew seems to be generating after having read that there was no safety set at pyrite, and no backboard/c-collar with the crew on Gore. Other safety issues that I thought needed improvement were communications and personnel tracking. As everyone left the river, I was still assisting a distressed boater hiking down above Toilet Bowl. Some other members of safety failed to communicate that I stayed behind. When my wife asked about me she was told that all safety had returned. While I did indicate that I was going to stay back to help, that I didn't need a raft to stay behind, and I gladly took on that responsibility, I did expect the other members of safety to at least indicate to the organizers that I was still on the river.

Given my experience and the oversight at Pyrite, I think I'd rather just bring a throw bag and a friend and hang out on a rock as a spectator with a rope and forgo the free t-shirt.
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Old 08-29-2010   #3
 
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Bozeman, Montana
Paddling Since: 1999
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number one... BOB KICKS FUCKING ASS...
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Old 08-29-2010   #4
 
rockinRio's Avatar
 
Laramie, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 227
I was the guy who got the Swimmer. I figure I should explain my account, so everyone gets the full picture.

I had a bad line through Gore (my worst) and was very close to swimming myself. I managed to get up and get through Scissors. I pulled into the river left eddy to catch my breath and collect myself. I wasn't in there 10 seconds when a paddle and Swimmer floated by. I looked around quickly and saw a safety boater next to shore, I assume he didn't see the swimmer, as he wasn't doing anything.

The Swimmer was not pro-actively swimming, as he was maybe five good stokes from the eddy line. It looked like it was all he had to keep his head above water. I peeled out to give chase.

I reached him quickly and shouted for him to grab my boat. Swimmer was trying to say something but it was so gar-balled I honestly thought he didn't speak English. He clumsily grabbed my cockpit rim and started to pull me over. I shouted very loudly and repeatedly for him to move to the back of the boat. At this point we were approaching the left eddy just above Pyrite. I was able to get into the eddy but when I looked to my stern he was gone. I looked over my other should to see him headed for the center of the drop (right of the double boof line). I took the left line and paddled out into the slack water below.

I spotted Swimmer face down in the water. He was in the current and I was behind the eddy rock. As I approached the swimmer he completely submerged, and disappeared. I paddled quickly over to his last location and he came up under my boat, still face down.

I rolled him over to see only the whites of his eyes. Scariest moment in my life.

I looked around and I was the only one in sight. Luckily we were in the biggest pool on the run, but I was in the middle of it and didn't know quite how to get him to shore. I attempted to wake Swimmer up, to get him to grab my boat even for a few seconds, but he was unresponsive. I attempted to bulldoze him but as soon as my boat touched him he rolled over onto his face. I rolled him back over and decided I couldn't let go of him.

I had my paddle in one hand and an unconscious Swimmer in the other, in the middle of Gore canyon, and I was completely alone.

(In retrospect this is when I should have grabbed my tow-tether hooked the biner to his vest and b-lined for the shore. But I didn't think about it until the drive home.)

I put my paddle on shoulder and did a shoulder side scull to the river-right bank. When I was close enough I threw my paddle onshore exited my boat (don't recall how) and pulled Swimmer into shore, making sure his head and shoulders were at least out of the water.

I quickly threw my boat on shore, ripped my helmet off and stood over him. I took a quick moment to pray that he was breathing, then bent down to listen. Thank God he was breathing. I began to re-assess our situation. Swimmer was surrounded on three sides by blast rock, and I was exhausted. I made one attempt to cradled his head and pull him out of the water, but pulling him over the rocks was apparently painful enough to wake him up slightly. I stopped and tried to get him to wake up, asked him his name, he responded with a very gar-balled "Clay".

I look around and I am still completely alone. I begin to blow my whistle in three blasts as loudly as I can, pause and do it again, pause, and again. I finally see some people moving down Pyrite (a raft or cat and some kayakers). I blast three out again and again, but no one is coming around the corner. (I was later told they heard my blasts but thought it was up stream so waited in the pool.

Finally I saw some kayakers slowly paddle around the corner. I start waving my arms motioning them to come to me. (I later learned they initially though I was just having a boat problem, until the lead kayaker saw feet sticking out from around the rock, then he began to book it). As the first kayaker approached the shore (turned out to be Ian) he asked if Swimmer was alright, I responded "no" and at that moment he took over. In short order we were able to get him out of the water, onto some grass and began to work on getting him warm.

At this time I fell back and didn't participate much save being part of the assembly line up the slope.


Some of my thoughts:

First off everyone on scene did an amazing job of cooperating, and listening. I've been in a couple of bad back county situations before, and I have to say it was the best managed situation I've seen or been a part of. Without much discussion there was a team working the Swimmer, and a team working to evacuate. Everyone worked quickly but with purpose. It was a great thing to watch. So for everyone who stepped in and did want needed to be done thank you.

Second, I want to be very careful as to not place any blame on the safety kayaker in the eddy below scissors. I have no idea instructions he was given, what he saw or didn't see, or what he thought. I would only say that in future given the high possibility of people swimming all the way past Pyrite and the large collection pool below Pyrite it would be a good idea to have a safety/rescue raft there.

I struggled with not being able to help more once others arrived, but I have come to realize a few things.
First after help arrived and I was no longer alone, the weight of the situation hit me, and I did suffer from a bit if brain lock.
However I have come to realize that everyone had a roll to play in this, once other people were there it was no longer my responsibility. People who hadn't seen what I had seen, and had clearer minds arrived to keep escalating the rescue. (I don't think I will ever forget rolling him over and seeing the his eyes rolled back).

Had I not left the eddy above Gore at the time I did, had I not had the worse line through Gore, I would not have been in that eddy to see him float by... sometimes things happen for a reason.

Finally, after I got off the river and people started to ask me about it everyone kept saying stuff like,
Man I'll paddle with you any day
Thank you for doing what you did, I can't believe you did all that
etc.

Here is the thing and I am dead serous about this. I think anyone out there would (or should) have done the same thing I did. If you see someone in trouble you should do everything you can to help. I couldn't imagine watching him float by and not chasing after him. I've been in bad swims, and he looked exhausted, I knew to some degree how he felt. He likely was resigned to being dead, and I know what that feels like. In my swims I had people around that I knew would do just about anything to save me. If you expect that from those around you, you should be ready to do the same.

I'm not a hero, yes I saved his life. But so did Ian and his crew, and the 30 other people who stopped afterwards and helped get him up the tracks. Everyone on the side of that river saved his life, not just me, I couldn't have done it all on my own.
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Old 08-29-2010   #5
 
caspermike's Avatar
 
Bozeman, Montana
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 5,521
bob you kicked ass...

NO BackBoard???? not so much a liability as not having correct safety set up. when you got racers thinking theres "safety at everydrop" than people are going to expect it. safety should be in the water as well.. you can make a bob rescue nearly as well as a rope and most of the time more successfully.. sounds like their needed to be safety boaters. we had plenty of people on shore. and yeah catching a boat is part of safety. unless you want somebody to continue down stream after their own shit.. dopnt expect people catching boats inbetween gore and scissors but come get some people in the pools. only saw a raft as i boofed pyrite. and i assume it wasnt safety..

overall i had a great time but kinda felt the same way about the outcome. bring your bros..
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Old 08-29-2010   #6
 
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Laramie, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1999
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Posts: 227
P.S.

Does anyone know how he is doing?
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Old 08-30-2010   #7
 
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Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2004
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Another thought: I haven't taught or attended any formal whitewater safety training; is there an accepted best practice for rescuing an unconscious swimmer when you're the only person in the area and you're in a kayak? Ian, Pete, and I were discussing the pros/cons of clipping the swimmer to your tow tether vs. the one hand for the paddle, one hand for the swimmer technique.
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Old 08-30-2010   #8
 
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Near water (hopefully), Colorado
Paddling Since: 2008
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Good work Bob gore would have been totally different without you.
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Old 08-30-2010   #9
 
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Lakewood, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1989
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Quote:
Originally Posted by craven_morhead View Post
Another thought: I haven't taught or attended any formal whitewater safety training; is there an accepted best practice for rescuing an unconscious swimmer when you're the only person in the area and you're in a kayak? Ian, Pete, and I were discussing the pros/cons of clipping the swimmer to your tow tether vs. the one hand for the paddle, one hand for the swimmer technique.
First, your rescue, all of you, was top notch. My rant above should have included that acknowledgement.

The pros of clipping in, as I see them:
1) You have more control over your own kayak
2) You can still release in the event of getting into a bad situation
3) You may be able to buy more time while other boaters/shore safety can respond.

The cons:
1) You may not be able to keep their head out of the water. My Green Jacket has no attachment point other than a shoulder strap which will pitch the swimmer.
2) If you have to release then your tether becomes a both an entanglement and pin hazard albeit it a small one.
3) The swimmer has no way of getting out of the tow situation without you releasing. I see this as an issue if the swimmer is conscious but having to still fight to maintain a heads up position and panicking as a result.
4) In a boat like the Green Boat, the swimmer may be fixed on one side of the boat (say the left) since the stern is so long. If you have to paddle to river left that could force the swimmer under your boat since they're upstream.

I never practiced clipping into a swimmer with a tow tether nor was it discussed in my SWR class. I've heard of people letting a swimmer hold onto one but that presumes the swimmer is conscious and able to assist in the rescue. As in other rescue techniques, it's something that would need to be practiced by paddlers and swimmers in turn to understand how to use it.
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Old 08-30-2010   #10
 
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 10
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 16
Nice job Bob. You are the man!

I take my helmet off to you my friend. Thank god you were there. Way to keep cool and find a way to get that boater to shore. I know that they don't hand out awards for what you did, but hands down to me you're the winner of the Gore Race. Keep doing what you do!



Quote:
Originally Posted by rockinRio View Post
I was the guy who got the Swimmer. I figure I should explain my account, so everyone gets the full picture.

I had a bad line through Gore (my worst) and was very close to swimming myself. I managed to get up and get through Scissors. I pulled into the river left eddy to catch my breath and collect myself. I wasn't in there 10 seconds when a paddle and Swimmer floated by. I looked around quickly and saw a safety boater next to shore, I assume he didn't see the swimmer, as he wasn't doing anything.

The Swimmer was not pro-actively swimming, as he was maybe five good stokes from the eddy line. It looked like it was all he had to keep his head above water. I peeled out to give chase.

I reached him quickly and shouted for him to grab my boat. Swimmer was trying to say something but it was so gar-balled I honestly thought he didn't speak English. He clumsily grabbed my cockpit rim and started to pull me over. I shouted very loudly and repeatedly for him to move to the back of the boat. At this point we were approaching the left eddy just above Pyrite. I was able to get into the eddy but when I looked to my stern he was gone. I looked over my other should to see him headed for the center of the drop (right of the double boof line). I took the left line and paddled out into the slack water below.

I spotted Swimmer face down in the water. He was in the current and I was behind the eddy rock. As I approached the swimmer he completely submerged, and disappeared. I paddled quickly over to his last location and he came up under my boat, still face down.

I rolled him over to see only the whites of his eyes. Scariest moment in my life.

I looked around and I was the only one in sight. Luckily we were in the biggest pool on the run, but I was in the middle of it and didn't know quite how to get him to shore. I attempted to wake Swimmer up, to get him to grab my boat even for a few seconds, but he was unresponsive. I attempted to bulldoze him but as soon as my boat touched him he rolled over onto his face. I rolled him back over and decided I couldn't let go of him.

I had my paddle in one hand and an unconscious Swimmer in the other, in the middle of Gore canyon, and I was completely alone.

(In retrospect this is when I should have grabbed my tow-tether hooked the biner to his vest and b-lined for the shore. But I didn't think about it until the drive home.)

I put my paddle on shoulder and did a shoulder side scull to the river-right bank. When I was close enough I threw my paddle onshore exited my boat (don't recall how) and pulled Swimmer into shore, making sure his head and shoulders were at least out of the water.

I quickly threw my boat on shore, ripped my helmet off and stood over him. I took a quick moment to pray that he was breathing, then bent down to listen. Thank God he was breathing. I began to re-assess our situation. Swimmer was surrounded on three sides by blast rock, and I was exhausted. I made one attempt to cradled his head and pull him out of the water, but pulling him over the rocks was apparently painful enough to wake him up slightly. I stopped and tried to get him to wake up, asked him his name, he responded with a very gar-balled "Clay".

I look around and I am still completely alone. I begin to blow my whistle in three blasts as loudly as I can, pause and do it again, pause, and again. I finally see some people moving down Pyrite (a raft or cat and some kayakers). I blast three out again and again, but no one is coming around the corner. (I was later told they heard my blasts but thought it was up stream so waited in the pool.

Finally I saw some kayakers slowly paddle around the corner. I start waving my arms motioning them to come to me. (I later learned they initially though I was just having a boat problem, until the lead kayaker saw feet sticking out from around the rock, then he began to book it). As the first kayaker approached the shore (turned out to be Ian) he asked if Swimmer was alright, I responded "no" and at that moment he took over. In short order we were able to get him out of the water, onto some grass and began to work on getting him warm.

At this time I fell back and didn't participate much save being part of the assembly line up the slope.


Some of my thoughts:

First off everyone on scene did an amazing job of cooperating, and listening. I've been in a couple of bad back county situations before, and I have to say it was the best managed situation I've seen or been a part of. Without much discussion there was a team working the Swimmer, and a team working to evacuate. Everyone worked quickly but with purpose. It was a great thing to watch. So for everyone who stepped in and did want needed to be done thank you.

Second, I want to be very careful as to not place any blame on the safety kayaker in the eddy below scissors. I have no idea instructions he was given, what he saw or didn't see, or what he thought. I would only say that in future given the high possibility of people swimming all the way past Pyrite and the large collection pool below Pyrite it would be a good idea to have a safety/rescue raft there.

I struggled with not being able to help more once others arrived, but I have come to realize a few things.
First after help arrived and I was no longer alone, the weight of the situation hit me, and I did suffer from a bit if brain lock.
However I have come to realize that everyone had a roll to play in this, once other people were there it was no longer my responsibility. People who hadn't seen what I had seen, and had clearer minds arrived to keep escalating the rescue. (I don't think I will ever forget rolling him over and seeing the his eyes rolled back).

Had I not left the eddy above Gore at the time I did, had I not had the worse line through Gore, I would not have been in that eddy to see him float by... sometimes things happen for a reason.

Finally, after I got off the river and people started to ask me about it everyone kept saying stuff like,
Man I'll paddle with you any day
Thank you for doing what you did, I can't believe you did all that
etc.

Here is the thing and I am dead serous about this. I think anyone out there would (or should) have done the same thing I did. If you see someone in trouble you should do everything you can to help. I couldn't imagine watching him float by and not chasing after him. I've been in bad swims, and he looked exhausted, I knew to some degree how he felt. He likely was resigned to being dead, and I know what that feels like. In my swims I had people around that I knew would do just about anything to save me. If you expect that from those around you, you should be ready to do the same.

I'm not a hero, yes I saved his life. But so did Ian and his crew, and the 30 other people who stopped afterwards and helped get him up the tracks. Everyone on the side of that river saved his life, not just me, I couldn't have done it all on my own.
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