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" I am very sorry to report the loss of a good friend and top-notch boater, and a brother of the hometown Russell Fork paddling crew today at towers rapid. Jon Lord was well-known to the southeast and northeast paddling scenes, with friends from New York all the way down to the Chattanooga area. Many of you knew him and will miss him deeply.
Jon and Matt Walker and myself (Jay Ditty) were paddling the fork today at a medium flow of about 700, a little less than the standard October release level, but still enough to run all the main lines. The water was cold, probably not much above 40 degrees if even that, and the air was maybe 35, with a cold wind and sleet. Matt was paddling a Java, myself a Blunt. Jon was in his Big EZ, a small boat, but a boat that he knew well and was very comfortable in. I have seen him hit lines in that boat that some of us would be lucky to do in a creek boat. He knew the river well and has more runs on this river than just about anybody around. I count him as one of the best boaters i have ever had the opportunity to go down the river with.
Matt and I just happened to run into Jon this morning at the take-out and had a good time exchanging stories on the way to the put-in. We hiked in at Camp Branch and had a good paddle down to the first few significant drops. As we approached Towers we laughed as we discussed which line to take. I went to the right around the island, the sneak line, and Matt ran first through the main line boof on the right side of the main current. We both ended up at the bottom of the drop at the same time, Matt upside down and rolling, me scrambling for the middle eddy. I saw Jon come off the main line boof out of the corner of my eye, then went out of view. From below the drop it is difficult to see the landing zone off the boof due to the rock in midstream. Jon never came out around the corner. After a few seconds, Matt and I realized something wasn't right as we couldn't see Jon anywhere. A paddle floated free from the drop. We didn't even go to grab the paddle, because I knew if Jon Lord dropped his paddle, something real bad was happening. I pulled out on the midstream boulder that blocks the backwash of the hole at the base of the drop. As I stood up, it took me a few seconds of scanning the rapid before I saw Jon's boat, pinned vertically in the submerged rock jumble just in the center of the drop. For a brief second, Jon and I made eye-contact as he had an airpocket and was trying to keep his head up, but the force of the water was immense and overwhelming. By the time I reached into my boat to grab my rope, he had lost the air pocket and was completely submerged. He was now face down in the water about a foot from the surface with the entire force of the 8 foot waterfall pouring onto his kayak. I was about 12-15 feet directly downstream of him, and I tried throwing my rope about 20 times to the place I thought he might find it, but I doubt he could even see it or feel it due to the force of the water. I finally looped it around behind his boat where it stuck for good. Pulling on the rope didn't move anything. Matt had exited his boat, portaged up the rapid on river right, and ferried out to the island. He made it down to a point about 10 feet from Jon's boat, where the rock wall juts out from the island. I threw the remainder of my rope to him, and he pulled from this angle, still with no luck in moving anything. I think the rope was probably caught on the same rock as Jon's boat, and doubt that we were pulling on anything that would help. Matt threw his rope and looped it around the boat from upstream, in the same way as mine, and pulled on that for awhile. I ferried back over to the bank and portaged up to join Matt. From the vantage point on the island, we could see Jon's boat pinned vertically, with cockpit downstream, and Jon trapped inside and submerged about a foot down. His lifejacket came loose and floated free after about 20 minutes. It appeared to us that the boat likely folded somewhere around his legs, possibly explaining why he couldn't get out. This all occurred at about 1:45, and at about 2:15, we decided it was time to paddle out for help. There was no way to walk out to him, even with my rescue harness, and it was a difficult decision to leave. We tied the ropes so they would be visible from upstream, and cautiously paddled out.
The rescue squad from Elkhorn City was notified when we arrived at Ratliff Hole, and a large crew was organized to join in the recovery effort, but daylight was fading and there was little that could be done in the 2 hours that we had left. We rode a CSX train up into the gorge with members of the search and rescue, swiftwater, and dive rescue teams from the nearby towns. We took them to the site after about a 30 minute hike from the tracks, and arrived at 5:00 pm. It was impossible to reach his boat or him from the river left side where we stood. After surveying the rapid, we decided to call off the recovery effort for the night and resume it in the morning. The dam was shut off, but there is still about 450 cfs in the river from natural flow. The local rescue teams have been a big help and did a great job tonight. They are collecting resources to help us in the morning to go back and attempt to get him out of the gorge. They say they will provide a couple rafts, but we will need to paddle them into the gorge along with a couple kayaks to get the gear to Towers. The rescue squad is coming in by train, and we hope to ferry a few experienced members across to the island. If all goes well, we will try to get him out of the gorge by train.
Jon leaves behind a family and friends who love him and miss him dearly. I'm sure some of you do too. We will try to keep you posted about details over the next few days. Please send some good thoughts this way, we need them.
Jay "

I didn't Know Jon but feel a deep sadness for his family and friends and the entire boating community
Rest in Peace

Matt Booth
 

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I did not know him, but I send my prayers and condolences to his family. A very sad story that makes you realize how fragile life is and how quick it can change.
matt
 

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Jay, Thanks for the info. We have circulated this around for everyone at work to read. I have worked with Jon since he moved to Pikeville. We talked many times about his adventures on the water. It was had to believe the news when I arrived at work Monday morning.
Our prayers are with you guys as you continue the search. I know it must be hard with the cold weather but those of us not capable of helping appreciate your efforts.

Phillip Johnson
 
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