CANYONING 6 December 2007 - Fatality, Claustral Canyon. Blue Mountains, NSW

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Dec 10, 2007, 11:46:14 PM12/10/07
to Australian Accident Register
CANYONING 6 December 2007 - Fatality, Claustral Canyon. Blue
Mountains, NSW

On Thursday 6th December Ian Knapp, a 61 year old Sydney man with ten
years canyoning experience, died in Claustral Canyon. The victim and
another experienced canyoner in the group had completed this section
of the canyon without major incident at least ten times previously. On
this trip the victim was with three others when he got into trouble on
the final technical obstacle before the exit track; a rock that blocks
the canyon that is usually descended with the aid of a hand line.

At this point there are two options for decent; either down the groove
on the left (facing downstream) that usually has water flowing down
it, or alternatively on the right which is usually free of water. Both
options have been known to have a fixed rope in place and there is a
log anchor on the right (often with slings around it) that would allow
descent by staying out of the main flow of water. It is also possible
to drop off the centre of the rock into a pool of water although care
must be taken to avoid a large rock that is often just under the
water. A number of people have been injured here after hitting the
rock. In low water the left groove is an easy scramble that for most
becomes a safe slide into the water as it becomes hard to hold the
handline.

The group arrived at the rock that blocks the canyon at about 2pm. The
other three in the group descended the open V-shaped groove on the
left, using the fixed, knotted rope as a hand line and waited at the
bottom. When the man started to descend he stepped into the groove
about 1.5m further back than where his companions entered the groove.
He sat down (facing downstream) in the water, looking as though he was
going to slide forward down the groove in the running water. He was
holding the hand line. Those watching from the bottom saw him sit
down, then wriggle and move to try and slide forward but he seemed to
be stuck and couldn't move. The main flow of water was pushing on his
back. After a few minutes of struggling unsuccessfully to move he
slumped forward and the water flowed over him. The cause of death is
not yet known.

One of the group managed to climb back up but was unable to free the
man. He then dropped a rope down and the other two in the group
prusiked up to help. They set up a hauling rig with a 4:1 mechanical
advantage to try and free the man and although they could lift him a
small amount they were unable to free him.

Later efforts by police rescue officers to recover the body took
considerable time to free the man from where he had become severely
wedged in the groove.

Due to poor weather it was not until Sunday that the man's body was
evacuated by helicopter.

Water level

The water level at the time of this accident was higher than what's
been regarded as normal in the past decade or so yet would probably
not be regarded as extreme by most Blue Mountains canyoners. By way of
an indicator of relative water flow the water flowing through the
keyhole abseil in Claustral was about 15cm deep. One of the survivors
of the group commented that he and the victim had previously
negotiated the same obstacle in higher water conditions without
incident. The weather at the time was fine and there had been no rain
that day.

Comments from the group

The survivors, some of whom have 15 years canyoning experience,
comment that ropes should not be left fixed in places where their use
in high water might lead others into the moving water and potential
danger. Fixed equipment tends to give the impression that "this is the
way". The survivors request that fixed rope should be removed if found
in this groove. There is a safe high water alternative on the other
side of the canyon (on the true right).

One of the canyoners in this group with extensive experience of
canyons in Europe commented that in Europe where they often experience
very high water flows in canyons they never use fixed scramble lines
that take you into the main stream of water.

Editor comments - CAUTION WITH MOVING WATER

Most Blue Mountains canyon descents are completed in very low water
flow conditions and consequently many canyoners do not have an
awareness of swift water factors. When water flows are above "normal"
canyoners should show extreme caution. Moving water often looks
harmless and un-spectacular yet can still have enough force to trap a
canyoner or carry them into danger. This is the second fatality due to
moving water in Blue Mountains canyons in the past three years (refer
to the report for 22 January 2005).

LEVEL 5 REPORT


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