The answer… is that there is no one right answer.
As many of you now know, there is indeed a story behind this one. It was a genuine situation we were faced with, and my main reasons for posting were for myself to see whether we missed anything obvious we could have done, but also to hopefully to share some collective wisdom as to what might be the best approach in situations like this.
So… the incident itself happened exactly as described (boat and paddler pinned in the fall, not stuck in a cave behind the curtain as postulated above). The pinned paddler was Dave
, my brother. It is likely he was pinned nearer to horizontal than vertical, but as we couldn’t see him it’s hard to say.The whole thing lasted three minutes – one of the guys had been filming with a waterproof camera attached to his BA. Listening back to this after the event we could just about work out the length of the incident.
Anyway, a brief summary of our rescue efforts, timing in [mins:secs]:
- [0:00 to 0:30] Everyone scrambles to the point nearest the rescue on their respective side of the river
- [0:15 to 1:00] Initially, ropes thrown into the fall from river right. Completely ineffective, but the quickest and easiest thing to do lacking anything else
- [0:50 to 1:20] One person river right clipped into live bait. Did not jump, mainly because they didn’t think they’d be able to reach the victim/thought the risk of injury was too high.
- [1:20 to 2:20] Tag-line set-up across the river. Takes more time than it should by having to re-coil ropes thrown initially and person river left falling in/having to climb back up. When this was across the river we tried to sink the line under the water to attempt to scoop Dave up to give him some air. No luck.
- [2:20 to 2:55] Person river left (me) tries to clip themselves onto tag-line to live bait in. Someone from the other side would have been better positioned, but I was getting desperate – it seemed like he had been in there for way longer than survival would be possible.
- [2:55] The boat resurfaces upside down. One person immediately jumps in (unroped) incase he’s still in there.
- [3:00] Others see that the boat is empty and scan downriver. Dave had made it out of his boat before it washed free and is ~30m downstream weakly swimming into an eddy minus his helmet. We’d missed him getting washed free, but he’s out and safe, although injured (He escaped by pushing himself into the flow, inverting his right knee in the process).
- The emergency services are called, and he is eventually extracted from the gorge by helicopter.
In short, I think we did almost everything we could have whilst he was pinned in there. However, we certainly didn’t do it efficiently as a result of rushing. I’m not sure there is any way around this. It’s easy to say “Don’t panic”, but when you’re faced with that situation you’d be hard pushed to find anyone that would stay completely calm.
The only thing I think we didn’t do which we perhaps should have, is have a “spotter” – someone keeping an eye out for the victim floating out downstream. It was only when Dave’s boat came out after he did that we spotted him – and it was only luck that meant he hadn’t already been washed around the corner. Some people here have suggested leaving someone in their boat downstream as a catcher. Whilst great in theory, this is an incredibly tough call to make unless you have a huge group. You’d need to be very disciplined to send someone away from potentially undermanned rescue efforts to sit and wait downstream.
Possibly the reason he’d taken so long to free himself was that he’d taken a hefty whack to the head (cockpit rim?) when he was pinned, and had taken the first two minutes to come around enough to escape. Dave says he only remembers being in there about 30 secs. Luckily he had an air pocket – though from the bank this looked like an impossibility.
A few thoughts/questions/answers of mine around some of the above suggestions and the incident in general.:
- Person in the boat: If possible try to signal where you are so rescuers can direct their efforts.
- Personal kit: Bright colours help you get seen. Don’t dress like a ninja!
- Don’t give up. There is always a chance they’ve got an air-pocket and are OK, just stuck.
- Timing – I’ve heard it before that having an easily accessible watch is recommended, as in situations like these (assuming you have the presence of mind to start the stopwatch), you will have a good idea of how long the casualty has been without air for. Possibly worthwhile when the emergency services arrive.
- I was on river left by myself, trying to clip myself to a line that had been thrown from the other side. A new BA meant that my cowstail was on the opposite side to where I was used to it being. In the panic I assume that it must have come detached and try to clip myself onto the line. This proves to be nigh-on impossible in panic mode without a cowstail. I know there is a fair debate as to whether to have a cows-tail. I’ve always worn one, but never been 100% convinced that it is necessary. I am now.
- To sink a cross-river tag-line under such fast flowing water it needs a heavy weight attached to it. Throwbag full of rocks, perhaps?
- There are some very good suggestions above (my favourite being the V-line anchored at the top of each side of the fall, allowing the rescuer to remain static in the fall to effect a rescue), but many of these take time to set-up (even finding enough rocks to weight down a throwbag). Do you go for the quick options first – throw bags at them, simple tag line. Live bait. Or do you risk leaving them to go unconscious by setting up more complex rescue rigs
Jim wrote:lucky you thought to put someone on the opposite bank, I can't say that we do very often. It isn't going to be easy to arrange.
- Person (me) on river left was purely there to take photos. Not through any safety preparedness. In fact, so much so, that I’d hopped in someone elses boat to ferry across, leaving my throwline on the far bank. I’m SO annoyed at myself for this. I’m usually extremely conscientious when it comes to having a throwline on me at all times. It made things much worse for me, as I was alone on the left bank, unable to do anything but wait for a rope to be thrown across the river and curse myself for being an imbecile. Things to take away from this: freaking obvious, but ALWAYS have your throw-bag on you – even if others are “on safety”.
- It’s easy for everyone to get drawn into trying to rescue the victim. Keep someone watching downstream for them to wash out. It is very easy to miss them if they wash out (we did). As has been said. Ideally, you want someone in their boat downstream, but man-power may restrict options.
- Weighted tag-line or throwbag - what do you weight the bag with?
- Paddle javelin/weighted throwbag – you may well do more damage to the casualty. Have you ever been hit round the back of the head with a paddle, or a bag of rocks. If you weren’t unconscious in the first place, you might well be once your rescuers are through with you. Consider the consequences before using.
- Mobile phone – carry one, especially if away from civilisation. If we hadn’t got one with us (we had two, but one got wet and died), it would have taken MUCH longer to summon outside assistance. It might be worth pointing out here that it is possible to text 999, but your phone needs to be registered with the service first.
Dave is going in tomorrow for the first of two operations to rebuild his knee. He has another in six weeks (apparantly opening up his other leg, trimming one of the tendons in there to transplant into his knackered knee). He'll be off boating for up to a year, and his knee is unlikely to ever be back to 100%. His main worry is it not being able to hold up on long-heavy walk-ins as he's previously "enjoyed" in Cali, Tajikistan amongst others. There's also a fair chance he may have to drop back a year of uni as a result of time off. He's understandably gutted, but having recently lost his old housemate in a paragliding accident, he's pragmatic about the injury, given other potential outcomes.
Apologies for this epic post, but thanks to everyone for contributing to the discussion. If you have any further comments/questions on anything above fire away.
I hope that if anyone reading is ever unlucky enough to be in a similar situation, that something here comes in useful.