On 10-06-93 AI...@YFN.YSU.EDU
wrote to ALL...
A > Message-ID: <28tju1$b...@news.ysu.edu
A > Newsgroup: rec.boats.paddle
A > Organization: Youngstown State/Youngstown Free-Net
A > I am looking for the accounts of the entrapment at nantahala
A > that were postedd here last week <i think> i attempted tosave them
A > but was unsuccessful. i was hoping that someone could e-mail them
A > to me, my address is : ni...@gibbs.oit.unc.edu
A > thanx in advance... <<i beleive that there were 2-3 posts>>
Paddler Drowns at Nantahala Falls
Jason Allgood, a seventeen-year-old high school student and
native of Chamblee, GA, drowned about 6:45 PM on Saturday,
September 4th, when his foot became entrapped in a tapered
crevice below Nantahala Falls. Witnesses said that Allgood, a
summer camp counselor with some experience in whitewater, dumped
his canoe well above the Falls and swam to the large eddy on
river left. He then reportedly stood up in the bottom of the
eddy, then slipped and washed over the left side of the drop,
hitting several rocks in the process. Allgood, who was wearing a
wetsuit, lifejacket, and helmet, went underwater at the bottom of
the drop and did not reappear.
By some accounts Allgood was initially able to catch a rope
thrown from shore, but was unable free himself. Eventually a
rescue team of NOC guides and instructors set up a tethered raft
and began searching for Allgood. Working from the raft, they were
eventually able to secure his body with a rope. Rescue workers on
shore then pulled Allgood's body out. The elapsed time was about
one hour. Resuscitation efforts on Allgood began immediately
after recovery but were unsuccessful.
This is the third whitewater drowning on the Nantahala. The
others were in 1976 and 1990. All victims were canoeists, had
some experience in whitewater, and drowned because of foot
entrapment. Two of the drownings were at Nantahala Falls, while
the third (the one in 1976) was at The Ledges. According to the
Nantahala Gorge Association, more than 2 million people have
descended the Nantahala since 1984, over 200,000 of them in this
What is surprising about a drowning on the Nantahala is not that
it happens, but that it happens so seldom. A vast number of
totally clueless people float the river every year without
problems. Ironically, all the drowning victims have been boaters
with some experience who at least knew what foot entrapment was.
Why then did Jason Allgood drown? NOC President Bunny Johns
speculates that when Allgood washed over the drop he hit his butt
quite hard on the intervening ledge and this caused him to
straighten his legs out.
Although this drowning can be mostly put down to bad luck, it's
worth keeping a few things in mind. We all know that you should
keep your feet up when swimming, but when you go over a ledge,
this will put you in more a or less vertical position. The
solution is to "ball up" when going over a ledge by pulling your
knees up to your chest. If you feel your feet make contact with
the river bottom, pull them up immediately!
The efforts to rescue Allgood were unsuccessful. Rescuing a
"heads-down" foot entrapment victim is quite difficult, and the
time available is roughly four to six minutes. Allgood was in
water too deep for a wading rescue, and the rescuers had to rig a
tethered raft for a working platform. According to Dan Dixon, one
of the rescue workers, the biggest problem was finding Allgood,
since the bystanders had not accurately marked his position.
This incident and the article on the pinning on the Ocoee should
make us realize that even "safe" rivers can kill. There is an
uncontrolled element of risk on any whitewater river, and we
always need to keep our guard up. It is questionable, however,
whether the public at large realizes this. The Asheville Citizen-
Times, in a recent editorial, recommended blasting the offending
cracks to "eliminate the danger." Are we headed for DisneyHala?
The Asheville Citizen-Times, in a recent article titled "Strategy
planned to overcome deadly Nantahala Crevice" described plans by the
U.S. Forest Service, Nantahala Power & Light, and The Nantahala Gorge
Association to "fix" the crevice blamed for the foot entrapment deaths
of two paddlers. Wayah District Ranger Mike Wilkens said that the plan
is to pack the crevice with concrete on September 21st after first
turning off the water. However, in a letter to the Forest Service, the
Western Carolina Paddlers objected to the plan as "a hasty and possibly
unwise move, made without the an opportunity for public comment." Club
safety chairman Slim Ray added that there is substantial doubt that the
same crack caused both drownings. The club requested that the Forest
Service conduct an investigation, issue a plan, and provide for public
comment, as well as issue a statement as to exactly what the Forest
Service's policy is on hazard removal. "No one seems to be considering
the larger issues here," said Chris Bell, a club officer. "No one seems
to be able to say what the policy is, or if there is one."
Persons interested in commenting on this matter are urged to write:
MiKe Wilkins, District Ranger
Wayah Ranger District
8 Sloan Road
Franklin, NC 28734
Here is an eyewitness account of the Nanty drowning. We have permission
to post it on Internet.
Nantahala Falls, 6:45 P.M., Saturday 4 September 1993: After
capsizing his open canoe in the entrance rapids to the Falls, 17-
year old Jason Allgood of Atlanta swam to the bottom of Bus Stop eddy,
about 20 feet upstream from Chicken Ledge, a three-foot shelf
that forms the bottom drop of the Falls on the river-left side. As he
stood and turned to look downstream, he fell into the current. About
five feet before the Ledge, he hit a submerged rock hard, then
continued feet first down the fold in the water formed by the
intersection between the river left edge of the tongue and the pourover
at the Ledge. Moments later his red helmet appeared, barely
submerged in the boil at the bottom about four feet from the Ledge, and
he started waving his hand. But his head remained under water.
My 16-year-old son Michael was closest to Jason, in Staging Eddy
about 20 feet river left of the bobbing helmet. Another kayaker in our
party, Neal Franks, was about 20 feet behind them at the top of the
large eddy just below Staging Eddy, and I was next in
line about 20 feet behind Neal. All three of us were experienced
kayakers; each of us had been down Nantahala Falls close to a hundred
times. All three of us had participated in a few not-so-serious river
rescues before, and I had taken two GCA river rescue workshops, plus
ACA instructor certification training and a GCA trip leader clinic.
Besides, I had read everything about river safety that
I could find. Now, what could I manage to do with all that?
Not much. Things seemed to happen in slow motion. As I paddled up
to Staging Eddy, I saw Neal get out of his boat with his throw rope and
hit Jason's hand with two perfect throws. Jason grabbed onto the rope
each time, but he let go as Neal pulled the rope in. I simply could not
think of anything else to do. It was as though the familiar fog of the
Nantahala had settled into me, like molasses of the mind. After an
eternity of indecision, I surfed into the hole just upstream from
Jason, trying to get in position to grab his helmet. But as I leaned
over in his direction, a kayaker coming downstream ran over me --
apparently he hadn't heard the call to stop river traffic. By the time
I recovered, Jason's head had disappeared below the surface. All this
felt like it took fifteen minutes; in reality, not much more than two
minutes could have elapsed between the time I first saw him come down
the Ledge and the time he vanished from view.
For the next five minutes or so, desperation took over the
assembled boaters and spectators as they came to grips with the fact
that they were dealing with an invisible victim. Nobody assumed
leadership, probably because nobody could figure out what to do.
One or two people jumped into the hydraulic, only to be recirculated and
flushed downstream, gasping for breath. This was the same place where a
rescuer had almost drowned trying to save somebody three years ago.
Several rope throws across the river upstream missed.
Within eight minutes of the time Jason dropped into the
hydraulic, several Nantahala Outdoor Center staff members arrived on
the river left bank. At that point the situation was far from hopeless,
because victims have been resuscitated after much longer per
iods under water as cold as the Nantahala. Al Mandrell from NOC
organized a raft rescue from Staging Eddy, but the raft crew could n
ot keep the raft from filling with water from the pourover. Once one of
the rope throws made it across the river, someone attempted
a tag line, using an enormous rock to get the line to sink in the swift
water of the Falls. At one point the tag line apparently caught Jason,
but he slipped off of it.
Another NOC staff member, Tom DeCuir, told the people jumping
into the hydraulic to stop, then tried to reach Jason from a kayak.
When that didn't work, he used a Telfer Lower with a self bailing raft
to reach the spot. Two strong stern paddlers braced into the downstream
flow to keep the backwash of the hydraulic from pushing the raft into
the pourover, as the bow paddlers attempted to reach Jason. Finally,
one hour and five minutes after Jason went over the drop, the rescuers
recovered him and took him to the river right bank, where an ambulance
was waiting. He was pronounced dead the next morning.
The next night, NOC held a meeting to begin devising a plan for
dealing with any future incidents at the Falls. Lots of ideas
came up: a self-bailing raft ready for action in the NOC raft rental
building a quarter mile down from the Falls, a permanent Telfer Lower
cable across the river above the falls, a footlocker with rescue
equipment on the river right bank, warning signs at the scouting area
with directions on how to run (and swim) the Falls, and a breathing
tube that could be handed to face-down victims.
Still, the burden everyone bore at the meeting was the
realization that this was the second drowning at the same location in
about three years. Both incidents were caused by foot entrapment in the
crevices at the bottom of Chicken Ledge. After the earlier drowning,
NOC staff filled in the crevices with rocks, but the second entrapment
occurred in the same location despite the earlier effort to remedy the
situation. Clearly, the crevices need to be filled with concrete
instead of rocks. The other suggestions were offered as ideas for what
to do before concrete is poured, or in case concrete doesn't solve the
problem, or in case the Forest Service balks at concrete.
Besides, most of the rescue ideas mentioned at the meeting would
take so long that any victim would have long before passed out and
disappeared from view. The ideas were great for recovering a candidate
for CPR, or for recovering a body, but not at all useful for getting
the victim's face out of the water before the victim loses
consciousness. Cold water aside, it would have been much preferable to
rescue a breathing Jason. As we are told repeatedly in rescue clinics
and in rescue books, the first two minutes are critical in face down
situations. The NOC staff wasn't there during those first two minutes;
Understandably then, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out
what I could have done differently. I went back to the accident site
during the morning when the water was off in the Nantahala. I was
amazed to see the dozens of foot entrapment hazards; I was more amazed
to see how shallow the water was. As I watched the river rise to full
level, I realized that Jason had drowned in LESS THAN FOUR FEET OF
WATER. He had dropped into the hole at the point where the flow exerted
its greatest downward force, driving his foot into whatever crevice was
there and bending him over downstream with such force that he could not
stand up without assistance.
I suppose I forgive myself for not giving that assistance. Two
minutes wasn't much time to analyze the problem, devise a solution, and
might not have saved Jason. Nevertheless . . . if the
words "foot entrapment" had entered my mind immediately, and if I could
have compressed two days of hindsight into a few seconds of
foresight, I would have come up with the following:
1. The rope should be thrown from the bank upstream. The only throws he
got were from Staging Eddy, which pulled him downstream. With foot
entrapments, downstream throws do no good. In this case, an upstream
throw would have been about as easy as the downstream throws that were
made. It might have given Jason the help he needed to stand straight
enough to bring his face out of the water.
2. The tag line should be immediately ferried across and attached to
Jason. One boater could have taken the bag end of one throw rope,
secured it to Jason and stayed with him, while the other boater secured
a second bag to him and continued to ferry the rope from
that bag across to the river right bank. Bystanders on each bank could
have anchored each rope to a point upstream from Jason in a way that
would keep his face out of the water and allow him to release the rope
that had been thrown to him from upstream.
3. At this point, the rescue could be completed with a Telfer Lower,
pulling Jason from the stern of the craft.
It's an elaborate scenario based on many debatable assumptions, and with
many opportunities for Murphy's Law to take over. But I'm convinced
that it's the only thing that could possibly have worked.
I also learned a few lessons. First, don't take any stretch of
whitewater for granted. So far this season, we've learned that
lesson from two near misses on the Ocoee and one drowning on the
Nantahala. Second, participate in as much river rescue activity as
you can. I shouldn't have passed up the recent Western Carolina River
Rescue Rodeo -- maybe I would have thought faster if I had use
d that occasion as an opportunity to practice my skills. Third, swim to
river right instead of river left if you capsize above Nantahala Falls.
You may hit the top hole, but that would be a lot better fate than
What about swimming position? That's a tough call in this
situation. You're supposed to assume the traditional feet-first
position in whitewater, except when going over drops into hydraulics,
in which case you're supposed to ball up into a crouched position.
The feet-first position helps you fend off rocks, while the balled-up
position helps you avoid the foot entrapments that can occur
when you plunge into a hydraulic. But this situation had both a bad rock
and a foot entrapment danger. If Jason did indeed know about the
balled-up position and assumed it as soon as he fell out of the eddy,
it probably made his collision with the rock more severe
than it would have been from a feet-first position. That could have
disoriented him enough to make him lose his balled-up position
when he needed it most. In the confusion of a whitewater swim, it's
often hard to know when to do what.
Some people at the meeting said that Nantahala Falls should be
upgraded from Class III to Class IV now that two people have drowned
there. I think it would be a serious mistake to reclassify the Falls. I
figure that close to two million people have gone down
Nantahala Falls, probably more than any other Class III rapid in the
world. Two is not a large number of drownings given that large
a number of opportunities for drowning. I'm sure we'd have seen as many
deaths at Horseshoe on the Upper Hooch, or Eye of the Needle on Section
III, or Clear Creek Falls on the Cartecay, if as many people had
paddled those rapids as have paddled Nantahala Falls.
Besides, I'd hate to see people taking on rapids like Dicks Creek Ledge,
or rivers like the Ocoee, because they thought those stretches of
whitewater were no more difficult than Nantahala Falls.
Later on that night, the night of the drowning, some of us who
were involved in the incident sat around the campfire, trying to absorb
things, trying to fit what had happened into the contours of our
thinking about ourselves and our sport. Neal said that this experience
was, despite the horror of it all, a cheap seat at a very expensive
lesson on the importance of learning more about river safety methods.
Michael reasoned that we really don't have a lot of control when things
like that happen; no matter how much we want to help, we can't. For my
part, I wanted to put the memory of it, and particularly my role in it,
out of my mind, so I said, "Well, at least it's over." But now I
wonder. If nothing changes, it very well could be deja vu all over
... OFFLINE 1.52 "Neurotics build castles in the sky. Psychotics live in them. Psychologists collect the rent."
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