Accident & Safety Reports


National Canoe Safety Patrol




Rescue At Sea
Account of DolphinGals's Participation
in the Everglades Challenge 2011
and Her Rescue At Sea
By Kathy Kenley (DolphinGal)

While many Watertribers had SPOT issues on the Challenge, mine thankfully performed perfectly. Piddling with SPOT over many trips, I learned its quirks, at least for my device. First, it doesn’t like the tracking function turned on until it’s had 15-20 minutes to settle in and acquire a signal; it needs to know where it is before telling it to keep track. It also doesn’t like to be moving when the tracking feature is initiated; it prefers to sit where it was initially turned on, or within a few yards, until both lights blink in unison a few times before moving. It doesn’t always malfunctions if I try to shortcut, but the probability skyrockets.

Even knowing better, I was on the water and moving before I initiated tracking - probably the excitement of the moment causing a brain burp. A third of the way across the bay, I noticed the lights were not blinking in unison. Crapo! It was too sloppy to putz with it, especially close to the shipping channel. Closer to Anna Maria, I stopped a few times to turn it off, on, and initiate tracking. The attempts were too rushed and didn’t work, so I waited until well inside Anna Maria before coming to a complete stand-still and resetting everything, even though it meant losing another 20 minutes or so and getting farther behind. That’s why the challenge mapper doesn’t show a steady track until that point.

Ok, tracker tracking and off to slug into the winds - and try to catch somebody to share the adventure. Strong winds on-the-nose and I don’t have a good relationship. As a lightweight paddler, they really affect progress, and if I need to stop, it’s an instant loss of a couple hundred yards. I may consider a sea anchor sometime. I had worked out a system for the MR340 for ingesting nourishment with a 4-hour Perpetuum mix slurry bottle; an old 20-oz Gatorade bottle that fits in my vest pocket and has a hole drilled in the cap fitted with a hose cut to mouth height. Another hose, also mouth level, extends from my water-only hydration bag and is velcroed to the vest. When possible, I grabbed solid food from the small 2-L drybag on deck. When both hands had to stay on the paddle, I got nourishment from the slurry bottle. Worked perfectly.

Started catching a few people and even passing some by around 11. It was great if even just to smile and say “Hi” to a fellow Triber as we charged the wind in comradery. At 4am Sunday, after a very long day, I finally hit the ramp at Placida, some six to seven hours after planned and about the time I had hoped to be around Matlacha Bridge. Oh well, drop back 10 and punt. While I believe a base plan is good, it’s merely a guide, It’s far more important to be able to adjust to whatever crosses your path. Shit happens.

After 3 hours sleep curled up in a heavy-duty survival blanket on the grass ramp, I was ready to face day two and headed out with a number of others toward Charlotte Harbor. The forecasted north winds didn’t arrive - it was another in-the-face day. Stopped at Matlacha Park just past the bridge (one of my normal launches) with the BluByeU team, showed them around, got water, hit the head, and continued on. I encounter manatees a lot in the Pass, but two still surprised the bejesus out of me on the way to the Caloosahatchee. Fortunately not close enough to create anything more than a little ruffle. That night I tucked into a beach near the toll booths at the Sanibel Bridge and got a good night’s sleep before facing the next leg - a long trek to the Marco River.

Woke at 5:30am to a pretty calm morning with a light north breeze. “Yeehaa”, I thought, “I’ll be able to get in some sailing. This will be a much easier day.” .... or so I thought. Sail up and paddling merrily along with a big smile on my face, somewhere a little after 8:30am I noticed two things. The first was that while the wind was NW, there was a building SW swell. This would not bode well in another hour or so as the winds for the day built. The second was that my boat was feeling a touch “weird” - a tad unruly and sloggy. Barely discernable, but there. With a decent following sea, little boats tend to wallow a bit depending on where in the circular wave cycle it is. That’s normal. But this felt a touch out of normal ... and I was three-and-a-half miles offshore. Now I’m thinking perhaps I faced the day with too much enthusiasm and began to alter my course to get me closer to shore by somewhere south of Wiggins Pass.

Then it happened. With a large swell coming from behind, I was in a slight lean and brace on the starboard side. Not an issue as I had done a few sliding braces, as I call them, a few times that morning already. However, while leaning right, a patch of whirly wind came circling around and hit the sail from the front! It billowed the sail back towards me .... and on the same side as my lean. Instantly I was on the wrong side of the waterline. With the sail deployed, it was wet exit time. At least the water was warm.

First order of business was gather the sail and secure it to the deck, then look around to see if anything had come loose. Seeing nothing afloat (I had just about everything tethered), I worked my way to the bow and lifted it to dump any water, even though not much had a chance to enter. The boat was listing oddly to one side. As I started to make my way back to the cockpit, it turtled. WTF?!? Tried it again and same thing. A stream of expletives left my lips. Ok, tackle it a different way. This time I got my rescue stirrup and shoved it in my vest pocket to have it immediately available. Next I tucked the paddle, secured by a leash to the boat, under my arm and dumped the boat again. Holding on to the paddle, but not touching the boat, I swam back to the cockpit. The boat was still listing and as soon as I touched the edge, even lightly, fwap! It turtled again. Attempting a cowboy re-entry didn’t work either. The boat was almost forcibly turtled each time. Next was a recon around the boat. Perhaps I was snagged on a pot line. Nope.

Ok, it’s early morning. At least it’s not dark or near dusk - a plus. With those thoughts I heard a boat, looked over my shoulder, and saw that it’s path would be fairly close. My boat is red, my vest is da-glo zonk orange (WhiteCaps refers to me as a moving traffic cone). They’ve got to see me. I grabbed my paddle and started waving, sure they would see it. Nope. They zipped right by only about a hundred yards away hell-bent on some unknown secret fishing hole. Yo! Are you blind? What a freakin predicament!

Next step was the paddlefloat. I inflated and attached it. When I flipped the boat over, the turtle tendency was too strong. Try as I might, I simply could not hold the boat upright with one hand while trying to get the paddle under the deck lines with the other no matter what. Something was terribly amiss and I simply could not figure it out.

Dozens of thoughts went through my head. Normal self-rescues hadn’t worked and I couldn’t think of any adjustments that could facilitate further rescue attempts with the boat insisting on turtling so strongly. No other Watertriber in sight. With 4’ swells, they’d have to be danged close anyway. I had been in the water about 15 minutes and while not chilled yet, I knew hypothermia would creep in soon and that my body temp had probably already dropped close to a degree. What on Earth could be the problem?!?

Any more efforts at self-rescue, if they didn’t work, would expend more precious energy (body heat) and put me into the not-good stage of hypothermia faster. When it sets in, it can go downhill fast. No way I wanted to hit SPOT’s 911 button. Chief said you’re out if you hit 911. I needed to complete the Challenge to qualify for the UF next year. At the time, the NCC, which I had completed last year and will do again this year, was not a qualifier for the UF. One needed to complete a longer challenge.

Don’t hit 911.
I grabbed a powerbar from my daybag and downed over half of it and drank about a cup of water. Peed in my fuzzy rubber pants, which warmed things up for a bit. In my SCUBA days I called it WSWF, Wet Suit Warming Fluid.

Don’t hit 911. You’ll be out of the Challenge!
Hmmm, maybe rig the two pool noodles (used to get the boat on/off a shell-ridden beaches) to the paddle along with the paddlefloat and maybe that’ll work. How long will that take? Longshot - and if it fails, it’s longer until help arrives. And I’ll have sapped more precious energy - hypothermia may arrive quicker than help.
Don’t hit the freakin 911 button! You’ll be out of the Challenge.
How about swimming the boat to shore? Whatareyou nut!? You’re three miles out! With fins, yeah, a possibility. If it was only a half-mile to shore, sure, no problem.
Don’t hit 911! Kip needs you (younger brother has RA and MS).
Don’t hit 911. You’ll be out of the Challenge.
Pisser. Kip needs me. Hell, I need me. Lots more to do in life. But the next challenge won’t be until 2014. I’ll be 67. Could do it tandem if I found a partner, sure, but at that age I’m not sure I could do it solo and I really want to do it solo first. There’s got to be something else I can try in a timely manner. Think.
Don’t hit 911.
Quick, review what you’ve tried already. Is there anything you didn’t do that you could have done? Anything to add/subtract to make another self-rescue more plausible?
Don’t hit 911!
Pisser!!! Kip. Life. Maybe better to live and paddle another day.

Those thoughts took place in probably a span of 10 seconds. OMG, SPOT is secured to the deck underwater because the boat’s turtled! Criminy - it may have already stopped sending out signals. I grabbed a biner, clipped one end to my knife tether (tethered to my PFD) and clipped the other to the SPOT before unsecuring it from the deck bungee. Awkward in the boat’s turtled position, but it worked. No way I wanted it floating away!

Don’t hit 911. There must be something else. Think. Pisser.

Any other remotely plausible scenarios I though of would take time to execute - too much time - and I was starting to feel a little chill. I’ve never not been able to get back into my boat, whether planned or the relatively few unplanned exits. Pooh!

Well, I won’t give up the adventure. I’ll continue it renegade even though it won’t count. I mean, after all, I DID set this whole week aside to paddle from DeSoto to Key Largo. What the heck else would I do with the week? And I have two nights reserved at Bay Cove and fully intend to paddle to it, not drive.

With that last thought, I cussed an extended streak as I did the unmentionable and hit the 911 button (Read the Shore Contact's Perspective). It blinked red, but in a non-uniform rate. Did it malfunction? Was a help signal actually sent? I had food (caloric heat) and water immediately available and planned to down another powerbar before doing anything else by way of physical exertion. With SPOT still blinking at an odd rate, I depressed the button again, this time holding it down a full maybe 5 seconds. It then started blinking red at a steady rate. That made me feel better and I downed a powerbar and drank some water.

OK, now what? I can’t simply float here, so I proceeded to attempt to rig the pool noodles to the paddle. How to attach? I could cut the sheets from my sail. Keep that in mind as an option if help doesn’t arrive within a short time. Hmmm, got it - use my rescue stirrup line. Got the stirrup out of my vest and proceeded to start wrapping. Because the noodles floated above the shaft with any pressure, it didn’t seem to add much floatation ... and I still had to figure out how to insert the paddle into the deck lines when the danged boat wanted to stay upside-down. I needed another hand. Duct tape may have worked better, but that was in the aft hatch. And the swells were building .... and I was still highly PO’d that I had hit the 911. Was it the right decision? Should I have waited longer and tried more attempts? Perhaps, but in the end I’m satisfied that it was the right decision for the time and circumstances.

Just then I heard the drone of an engine. As I floated up on the top of the next wave, still attempting to attach the noodled paddle to the boat, I saw a black and red boat with lights blinking bearing straight down on me. Whatever happened to the white with red stripe CG boats? Maybe it was a SeaTow boat going somewhere. Danged, I hope they see me in time to not run me over. With that, the boat slowed and I saw it was indeed the CG. I disassembled the pool noodles and tucked them under the aft deck bungies, shoved the paddle into the boat, and looked around for anything else that might need tidying up. I was chilled, but not yet shivering.

If you ever need to be rescued by the Coast Guard, do not request that they help you right your boat so you can figure out what’s wrong so you can continue on your way. It won’t happen. It’s not how their world works. Two eye-candy officers lifted me onto their boat. After noting the equipment on the boat, they commented on the safety equipment in place, both on me and on the boat. Two points for me. On the boat, with the freshening wind hitting my wet body, I then started to shiver. The officer at the helm was talking to someone on shore, saying something on the order of “She’s fine but chilled.”
“But what about my boat?”, I inquired.
“We’ll come back for it.”
“Why not get it now - all in one shot?”
“Procedure, ma’am. We’ve got to take you back first. There will be an EMS unit waiting.”
“An EMS unit?!? But I’m fine. Really. I’ve got a mylar emergency blanket in the back of my vest - and a candle. I can warm myself up with those.”

No response, just weird looks and another round of “it’s procedure”. I really just wanted a little assist and to be back on my way. Time was a-wasting. They covered me in what looked and felt like my dad’s old wool army blanket. Toasty, and I started warming up almost immediately.

“How long have you been in the water?”
“About a half-hour”
“Did you swallow any water?”
“Only one mouthful and about a tablespoon.”
“Where did you start out from?”
“Punta Rassa.” Well, that was true. I had slept on the south side of Sanibel Bridge in Punta Rassa.
“Where were you headed?”
“Marco River.” Again, that was true. I simply omitted saying Gullivan or White Horse Key was my intended destination for the day with Key Largo the ultimate destination.
“Anybody else out here with you?”
“No.” D’uh, I thought. If there was, I probably wouldn’t have hit 911!

At the CG dock, the EMS people scooped me into their truck before I could say boo. They relayed my temp (down 2 degrees - mild hypothermia), stripped off my wet clothes against my protests, put on a cotton hospital garb, and overlaid with a light cotton blanket. I was almost starting to feel too warm by the time we reached the hospital.

At the hospital I got the same questions about length of time in the water and did I swallow water. They nuked some socks and put them on plus a slightly thicker blanket, which I pulled down off my chest as I was warm enough. No matter to them, though. Temp taken again plus blood glycogen level tested, which was in the normal range. More people in and out - more temp and glycogen levels taken - same questions. Finally a doctor came in and, after looking at my chart and asking the same “how long and how much” questions, I asked what the blood glycogen level thing was about. She said glycogen levels go awry when a person is hypothermic but that my levels had been fine all along. Okay, then why bother to keep taking it over and over?! A little later a technician came in and said I would be released after I had a chest x-ray.

“What do I need a chest x-ray for?”
“To make sure your lungs are clear and if there’s any water in them.”
“But I’ve told plenty of people I only swallowed a little more than a mouthful!”
“We can’t believe what people tell us if they’ve been in the water more than 20 minutes. We have to presume they’re hypothermic and don’t know what they’re saying. It’s procedure.”
“D’uh! Why bother asking if you’re not going to believe them anyway?!?” That brought a chuckle to a few attendants standing around. If I heard “it’s procedure” one more time I was going to scream.
“OK, let’s get her done and out of here.” one laughed.

Amidst all the above hospital rig-a-ma-roll, other things went on. One of the attendants early on, and someone who was in and out constantly, was Christina. She asked if she could get me a cup of coffee, which I greatly accepted. While sipping, she asked about the events leading to my landing in the hospital. Christina procured a laptop so I could log into my email and get Deena’s phone number from my email contact info log. Then she got me a phone (I think it was hers since it was a cell phone) to make a call so I could let Deena (shore contact person) know I was fine, albeit getting ansy. My phone was in a drybag inside the boat, wherever that was.

Turned out that Christina, too, was a kayaker. Hmmmm - wheels turned. With no Coast Guard around, I felt secure in relating more and more about what I was really doing out there and what the adventure was about. “You were doing what? You were where?” She became excited and interested in the adventure. Her boyfriend, Nick Stillman, was also a kayaker and an avid fisherman who often went kayak-fishing. OK, truth be told, I kinda sorta hinted in a not-so-subtle way that maybe, just maybe, if somehow (hint, hint) I could manage to get myself to a launchable area (hint, hint), I could continue the journey. Turned out to be a good thing because I was offered a ride, although her boyfriend didn’t get out of work until 4pm. Ok, maybe I can be back on the water by 6/6:30 tonight. If it’s later or too rough, I’ll camp on the closest beach until morning.

That, of course, was assuming the CG really did go back out and retrieve my boat ... and that I still had all my equipment .... and, most importantly, that there was no structural damage. That last item preyed on my mind. Did something structural happen to the boat that made it want to stay turtled? What the heck was going on? Would I really be able to get back on the water? No sense worrying about it until I saw the boat and checked it out - heck, or even if I would ever see it again. For all I knew, the boat was drifting it’s way to Cape Sable. I felt helpless not knowing. Where’s that danged technician who’s supposed to take me for that silly x-ray?

In between all that was yet another intertwined layer - the bestest (sic) one. I called Deena and before I got out where I was and that I was ok, she said she knew everything and had been in touch with the SPOT people and the CG all along. I mentioned disheartedly that I was out of the race, but that I was going to finish it renegade assuming boat and equipment were good.
“You don’t have to do it renegade. You’re still in.”
“No I’m not. I’m out. Will just renegade it.”
“Listen to me. You’re not out. After I knew you were ok and where you were, I called the race manager (Pelican) to let him know. He said to tell you he’s not going to DNF you ... that it’s up to you to decide.”

Those had to be absolutely the sweetest words I could have heard. I asked her to repeat it, just in case I hadn’t heard correctly, then let out a “WhoooHooo” energetic enough to about lift me off the bed. Christina knew something neat had happened and I’d fill her in a little later. Deena said she was in her car about 10 minutes away. Telling her I was fine and had it mapped out to get back on the water didn’t stop her. She still wanted to physically see me to make sure I was really ok. Why doesn’t anyone believe you when you say you’re fine? I simply wanted to be back in my boat and on the water - alone. But I also realized that if something happened to Deena while on a sailing race with Ned, I would do the same thing - ignore the “I’m ok” and see for myself that they were ok.

With only wet clothes in a bag that had followed me from the CG boat, I was offered paper hospital scrubs. Strange, but they’re actually ok and don’t really feel like ‘paper’. Grabbed some real food from a nearby eatery and watched the time to make sure I wouldn’t miss Nick and Christina at the front hospital door. Hooked up with them and at the CG station, there indeed was my boat. OMG! As I looked everything over, the only things that appeared missing were a piece of foam I used as a kayak seat that doubled as a foot cushion and a sponge - amazing.

The forward and aft hatch covers were slightly undone, but the officer there said the guys who retrieved the boat were out on the water. I didn’t know whether they had opened the hatches, if they came loose in the water (pretty impossible since the hatches fit tight), or what. Picked up a sponge at a beach toy store. Nick wanted to know where I wanted to go and gave me suggestions. I discounted the launch in north Naples across from Wiggins because that was more south than where I went over. I knew Big Hickory Pass was a PIA, so I chose New Pass and off we went.

Meantime, a number of friends in the area who I had given my SPOT and Watertribe URLs to were scrambling about looking for me - en masse - with all manner of fiberglass cloth and resin (most thought my boat had been physically damaged), bungee cord, line of all lengths and diameters, containers of nuts, bolts and washers, and miscellaneous kayak equipment. I probably could have rebuilt the QE II. One by one they found me at New Pass and were amazed, but delighted, that the boat was not damaged, it didn’t need any repairs, I hadn’t lost any equipment (save for the foam pad and sponge), and I really was fine. One by one I chatted with them for a bit while checking the boat over and over and packing. Then as politely as I could, sent them on their way so I could get back to the business of getting back on the water - grrrr. I think I would have had to get clearance from the race manager to accept any repair items anyway since they weren’t “complete strangers,” but rather kayak buddies who had come with repair supplies.

First thing I did was try to figure out the turtle issue. With the boat loaded, I flipped her over and back up. She floated fine and didn’t list. Did it a few more times and it was still good. Opened the hatches and they were dry, save for a tablespoon or two that dripped from gear that was still a little wet. Dunked it again, rocked it around. The hatches were still dry and the the boat sat on the water fine. The only possibility I could think of was that maybe I hadn’t secured the aft hatch well enough that morning and in the following seas enough water had entered to a) make the boat feel “weird”, and b) cause the turtling phenomena. I could have putzed around with that theory, but that would have resulted in equipment in the aft hatch getting soaked and having to pump it out. I’ll putz with it this summer along with possible load shift if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to get going and felt secure in the boat. Besides, I would only be going down the coast and close to land. If anything felt amiss, it would be a short jaunt to land.

The absolute useful visit was from KonTiki, a former Watertriber who had been following the Challenge and came looking for me to see if I needed any assist. His advice on how to get out of New Pass and of the two long sets of breakers (ie, don’t head south after the first set - keep going out because there’s a second set), were invaluable. I completed prep for launching, changed into my almost-sun-dried paddling gear, and launched.

Danged it felt good to be back on the water! It was close to dusk. Although I could have camped on a nearby beach, I felt the need to get underway - to make some distance, no matter how little. On the way out, I wiggled in the boat, did a few braces and sweeps. It felt good. Wiggins Pass was only about 6.5 miles south and I could camp there for the night. I had talked to Pelican a short while ago and he told me SandDollar and DrKayak were making their way to Wiggins along the inside route. Perfect - time on the Gulf by myself then hopefully meet up with other Watertribers for the night. Danged but the day had taken a lot out of me. I needed a good long quiet sleep to revamp body and brain. It was a yeeehaaa ride through the surf breakers into Wiggins. I met up with SandDollar and DrKayak, camped, and got a decent night’s sleep.

In the Marco River, I again met up with them again after dark close to Tripod Key. They said RubberDucky was nearby, but I never saw him. We camped on Gullivan that night. At Chokoloskee (yeah, checkpoint 2) SandyBottom had her gear spread out drying. Sadly she told me she was dropping out due to severe rashes and OMG was she right. I cringed looking at them. Then she mentioned the open sores on her tushie, the clincher making it impossible to go on. Deena surprised me by showing up. When I asked what she was doing there, she said that since the incident, she was concerned and wanted to make sure I was still ok. Well, it saved me a phone call - ha.

A few others were at the landing, including Honusail, who also had decided to drop out. He graciously donated a couple of big, juicy oranges and a couple of Carrot Cake Clif bars. Thank you - they were yummy! SandyBottom tried to gently persuade me to not continue. “There really isn’t enough time to go through the Wilderness Waterway and make it to Key Largo in time. You’d have to go outside.” I told her my intentions had been, and still were, to go outside anyway. It was late afternoon on Wednesday and, as I recalled, the absolute deadline was 7am on Sunday. That was more than three days away and I was more than halfway there. No problemo. I was concerned about running out of food. Since the store was open, I grabbed a turkey sandwich, chips, and a drink. After I came back from a visit to the head, she told me SandDollar and DrKayak came in and had decided to call it quits there.

Not that I have a stubborn side or anything, but there was no way short of a hurricane that I was going to stop - at least not without trying. Not trying is a no-no. If I do find it too bad outside, then I’d consider two choices; head back to Chokoloskee and try to really race through the Wilderness Waterway and hope to make it to Key Largo by Sunday morning, or DNF. But I had to at least try. I finished the sandwich, re-arranged a few things on the boat and launched. At the tip of Chokoloskee, I ran into CliffJumps, who I know also from FCPA races. After joking that he was going the wrong way, he told me he had spent the night on Turkey Key and was bagging it. “It’s crazy rough out there. I’d turn around if I were you.” Four hours ago I came in through Indian Key Pass. It wasn’t that bad out there. Had the wind come up more on the Gulf but not in Chokoloskee? “Thanks. I’ll just poke my nose out and see what it’s like. Maybe I’ll see you back here.” With that, I continued on. The Gulf wasn’t any rougher than when I last left it, so I battled on. Had hoped to make Turkey Key, but since I was still a bit behind in physical and mental rest, I decided on Pavilion instead.

Shortly after launching in the morning, I ran into a paddler who had “lost” his group - and his way. He was supposed to meet them at Rabbit Key, but was terribly disoriented, even with a GPS. Well, what the heck. I took him about a mile or so north to where Rabbit Key could be seen, pointed it out, made sure he knew the island I was pointing to, then turned around to continue the journey.

I knew a front was supposed to come through during the day, just not when or how fast. I heard one faraway boom behind me, and then nothing. About 15 minutes later I heard another boom. Looking back over my shoulder again, this time I saw it - black, really really BLACK - with an ominous rolled white cloud leading the way. Okay, time to make for land - FAST. Luckily I was only about a mile off Plover Keys, made an abrupt left (east) turn, and paddled like Hades. Deena said when she saw my 90-degree turn on the mapper, she knew I had seen the front. Didn’t quite make it to the beach before it hit. Got pelted with stinging cold rain and had the paddle almost ripped out of my hands. The long shallows offshore made for hellaciously choppy conditions. I undid my skirt about a hundred feet out, planning a quick exit in a foot or two of water so the boat wouldn’t bash into the beach. Dumpers came from behind and I went out of the boat a little before planned - the “ruptured duck exit”. Slamming water had ripped my hydration bag from the deck. It was somewhere out there.

Hit the beach and got the boat up above the high tide line. I was chilled by the cold rain. Sent an OK signal figuring Deena would see it and know I survived the front. Got out my tent and set it up. Grabbed the survival blanket, bottle of Gatorade, daybag and stove and got in the tent. After donning the blanket, which I had made into a poncho as per Chief’s suggestion, I lit the stove in the small vestibule area and was de-chilled within five minutes. The wind was still howling and the rain pelting so I decided to catch a snooze waiting for the front to pass .... and hoping it would within a few hours so I could continue down the coast. Got about three hours sleep and woke to better conditions. “Better” being a relative term - at least it wasn’t pelting rain or blowing 40 mph. Packed up, donned a polartec vest for more warmth, and headed out.

Somewhere around Broad Creek I realized that with the lost hydration bag, I’d be hurting before I made Flamingo. Should I go back to Chokoloskee? I could be almost to Flamingo in the same amount of time. A powerboat came up from behind heading towards Harney and almost ran me over. I shouted and waved a few times. Finally somebody on the boat saw me and they turned around. I told them that when the front hit I had lost my hydration and asked if they had any water to spare. I don’t know if asking for something from a complete stranger is against the rules, but at the time I didn’t even think about it. Fortunately they had a cooler full of water bottles and gave me two. They asked if I was part of the Watertribe race and I replied, “Yes”. They asked my tribe name and said they’d contact someone when they got back to let them know I was ok. I don’t know if they ever did, but it was a nice gesture.

Turning the bend into Ponce de Leon Bay, I was feeling good and quite rested. Could have kept going to Flamingo without a problem. However, the winds hadn’t died out further, the water was a very sloppy mud-brown roil, I was now getting hit on the aft quarter ... in the dark ... in a Bay known for its sloppiness ... with a bit over two-and-a-half miles of open water before getting any protection from islands. I shone my bright dive light into the darkness. The slop was not just near shore - it went all the way out.

Graveyard campground was less than half-mile away. Decision time again. Perhaps now, “knowing” I was going to make it to Key Largo, I chose to take it easy. There were campers at Graveyard. I explained to a gal on the beach that I was on my way to Flamingo but uneasy about crossing the bay with the conditions and would they mind if I crashed there. It was an Outward Bound group that had been there two weeks. Not only was it no problem laying over there, but they had just finished making a late dinner and asked if I’d like some pasta with marinara sauce. Would I? They didn’t have to offer twice. I set up by the landing, well away from them, and had a heaping mound of pasta marina served on a frisbee. I didn’t even have to get my cookware dirty!

Where are those north winds? Just one day of them, messed up by dumping - arrgh, and it was back to southerlies. Oh well. Onward across Whitewater Bay and into Flamingo. Coming down Buttonwood Canal, a tour boat slowed as I passed. One of the tourists asked where I had come from. “Fort De Soto in St Pete,” I replied with a big proud grin. The captain then asked if I was part of the Watertribe and I replied, “Yes.” He bid me well and proceeded to tell the tourists what the Challenge was all about.

A few days back, Pelican said there may not be a “greeter” at the checkpoints because I’d be arriving so late. At Choko, there were a number of Tribers, which made for great chit-chat, but I started to feel a little down that there wouldn’t be anyone at Flamingo. That’s why it was such a treat to see Etch when I rounded the corner to the ramp. Wow! Neato! Ear-to-ear smile. He said people in Key Largo were watching my progress and called him when I was at the head of the canal. He also mentioned that, to my surprise, I was not the last one in. Trader and TroutHeart were behind me about to enter Whitewater Bay.

Etch then told me that he and Chief had talked it over and decided that I was, even though only at Flamingo, pre-qualified for the UF. I didn’t have to go on. It was tempting to say the least ... shower, clean clothes, dry clothes, soft bed, sleep vs paddling through the night, no more power bars, big seafood or steak dinner, but .... I looked him in the eye and said, “Thanks. I really appreciate that, but I made it this far. I can’t stop now. There’s only 35 more miles to go. I have to go for it.” Etch suggested waiting till morning instead of crossing Florida Bay in the dark. I had looked at my tide chart while paddling down the canal and knew I could catch the last of the incoming tide for a little boost if I left by 6:30’ish at the latest. That would still give me enough time to do the portage and taste the marina store’s cheeseburgers SandyBottom had raved about.

Mulling it over, I asked what time the banquet was. That shows what was important to me - ha - food. Real food and lots of it. He didn’t know but made a call and found out it would be noonish or a little after. If I waited until morning to start out, I’d miss it. That provided yet another reason to paddle across the bay at night.

It was sunny. It was warm. A gentle breeze rustled palm fronds ever so lightly in the sweet light of late afternoon. I could “taste” Key Largo. Life was good :) While I adjusted things on the boat and tidied up, Etch checked the weather. He said it was supposed to be “light and variable winds” and nothing strong out of the east for another day. After the short portage it was off to the store. The cheeseburgers were fabulous - highly recommended. It was also nice to sit down at a picnic table to eat like a human. I also bought batteries for my GPS (I had put in my last two back in Coot Bay), a couple of 1.5-litre bottles of water, and a bottle of Powerade.

I launched around 6:30pm with a full belly. The tide boost was great, even though it lasted only about an hour-and-a-half. What an absolutely gorgeous night on the water! A quarter moon gently illuminated bay. I paused when I went through Dump Keys, enjoying the quiet of the mystical setting as I slowly paddle between the two islands. Twisty Channel was challenging, but I only hit shallows twice when I got slightly outside the narrow channel.

On the trek over to Jimmy Channel, the wind started to freshen. By the time I got to the southwest end of Manatee Keys, I thought about calling Etch and telling him to get another weather forecaster. The winds had continued to build out of the northeast and it was now pretty strong. “Damnit - give me a break, willya!” I yelled into the night at no one in particular. Rounding the east end of Manatee Key I could see Key Largo. I could taste Key Largo. Only 11 more miles to go ... but they would prove to be the worst by far of the entire trip. And, I was about to cross one of the few open and deep areas of the bay. Murphy’s Law.

I slogged towards Bottle Key, altering course a tad any time a large set was about to break over my beam. I was starting to hallucinate more. Big white buoys had been cropping up in front of me then disappearing since back around Twisty Mile. Stay awake! You can’t fall asleep or you might fall over! Sing. And so it was that I began going through my large repertoire of 60’s and 70’s folk and R&B tunes - every freakin one of them from 500 miles to Sittin on the Dock of the Bay to Delta Dawn.

A little past the tip of Bottle Key I gave into the fight a bit. My speed had slowed to 2 mph and declining. Those danged disappearing buoys kept popping up and I scarily snapped awake a few times. I couldn’t take my hands off the paddle to get a drink and my lips were getting dry-parched. I was tired of singing. It had lost its zip in helping keep me reasonably alert. Instead of hitting Bay Cove by 4 or 5 am, I was now wondering if I would even make it in time for the banquet. That would really piss me off after all this!

I let myself get pushed towards the Keys chain instead of trying to fight unsuccessfully straight across to the island south of Butternut Key, but I was angry - very angry. Speaking to the wind .... You’re (slam-dunk the paddle) NOT (paddle) going to (paddle) beat me (paddle). I AM going to make it. You’re NOT going to get me with only 5/6 more miles to go. You’re NOT going to win. Close to shore now, I looked for some protected area, some little niche, where I could duck in to take a short break and get some water and food. The wind direction was such that it was not to be. Speed had declined to a little over one mph. Instead of counting islands as I passed them, things had dwindled to counting pilings. First this one, then the next, and so on.

I wondered briefly if there was any rule against portaging into Bay Cove. Maybe I could find a house with a driveway extending close to the water and portage out. My portage wheels were small, a DIY project made from old baby carriage wheels and only meant to handle very short distances like Flamingo or onto beaches, but it could possibly go a mile or more without breaking. Maybe it would be faster to get out of the boat and walk it along the shallow edge around to Bay Cove. Ok, Kathy, you’re really starting to lose it. Snap out of it and just keep paddling.

Ever so excruciatingly slowly, the peninsula to the south of Bay Cove started getting closer. Or perhaps it was merely that dawn had arrived waking the day with pale light. Around 8am I finally reached the tip of the peninsula and tucked in close enough to be totally in the lee. Peeling my hands from the paddle, I guzzled down about half a bottle of water. In 10 inches of water it was easy to get out of the boat to pee in the water - and I didn’t care if anyone could see. I was also hungry and downed a Powerbar and some crackers, then drank more sweet water. I knew people were watching the mapper and waiting for me to round the corner and come in, but I needed the break - I needed the water - I need some food - and I needed to pee. Long white wind streaks covered the channel at the peninsula’s tip. Heading into it and down that last mile-and-a-half was not going to be a picnic. But it was only 1.5 miles - YEAH! The break was refreshing and I was ready to charge that last bit.

Approaching Bay Cove, there were sailboat anchor lines to dodge around and make sure I didn’t get hung up. About 40 feet out, I was finally in a lee. YeeeHaaaa! I made it! DFL (dead freakin last), but I made it. Three days after I’d hoped to be there, but there nonetheless. I fought the wind the whole week - and won. It’s tough to really describe how good it felt when I was near enough to make out friendly faces ... buddy WhiteCap was right up front there, and SharkChow ... and oh, there’s Chief, BluByeU, Pelican, SandyBottom, Deena, and the list goes on. Claps and cheers sounded soooo good. Somewhere in there I think I turned around to give the wind the finger - hehehe. SharkChow helped extricate me from my boat while WhiteCaps held it steady. Thanks guys! WhiteCaps, with his very warped sense of humor, said, “Welcome to Stage Point one”, a sick reminder that if this were next year on the UF, I’d only be at the end of the 1st stage, with five more stages to go. Hey, what are friend for, right? Keeps one in perspective.

I know this might sound strange, but when I was about 20’ from shore and Chief was yelling, “C’mon DolphinGal. Keep coming. Paddle the last.” it was a bittersweet moment. I knew as soon as I touched land, the Challenge would be officially over. That’s it. Done. I really would have liked to sit out there for a while, mulling over the week and it’s events - and snubbing my nose at the wind again. But then, a shower, clean dry clothes, and food won out.

I have never been so wet, so tired, or fought the wind so much for so long .... and I was so ready to go again.

What could have been done differently:
If you dump and are alone offshore, get a flare and put it in the front vest pocket or someplace immediately accessible. Fire it off if a boat is near, even if you think they’ll pass close enough to see you without it. Fishermen are too focused to notice much outside their tunnel vision. Had I fired off a flare towards them when I saw the boat shortly after I dumped, they’d have seen it, and then me. Perhaps with their help, I could have gotten my kayak in order, got back in, and been on my way again within an hour.

Equipment that really worked:
The heavy-duty survival blanket I made into a poncho per Chief’s suggestion was amazingly versatile. In addition to using it as a tarp to curl into for a short snooze, it helped warm me after being pelted by the cold front’s rain, donned as a poncho for a bit when I hit the beach so I wouldn’t chill before having the tent set up and ready to get into camp clothes, and used as a cover over one side of the tent to protect it more from cold winds. When I thought I had left my ground cloth at the last camp, I could have used it as a ground cloth. (I found the ground cloth hiding in a corner of the aft hatch). I’ll never do an overnight trip without it.

The Perpetuum slurry bottle I had made and tested on the MR340 last summer with a hose at mouth level continued to work like a charm. It was invaluable for spending hours in sloppy conditions when taking hands off the paddle would not have been easy.

Paddle On!
Copyright ©2011 Kathy Kenley (aka DolphinGal)

By Deena

I woke Monday morning knowing DolphinGal had camped along the Sanibel bridge. I fired up the computer to check her progress. Since I live in North Fort Myers, I was thinking of where along Fort Myers Beach or further south I might drive to and wave to her and other WaterTribers from a pier or shore and perhaps take more pictures. As I enjoyed my coffee and plotted her progress, I realized she was staying offshore and waving from a pier or beach would not be doable.

At 9:07:41 my phone chirps and I check to find a strange text message. It says:
From 2 of 2: Longitude -99999 GPS location
date/time: 03/07/2011 09:07:41 EST

I had never encountered anything like that. It didn't say findmespot or DolphinGal. While I was looking at the message a second one arrives. It said:
From 1 of 2: (message from DolphinGal SPOT Personal Tracker)
Dolphin Gal Latitude -99999

I was puzzled to say the least and wondered if her Spot had failed. The word URGENT troubled me but at that moment I did not understand it as a 911 header. I realized that a moment later when my phone rang and a nice young man in Dallas informed me that he was with SPOT and following up on a 911 message. He had tried calling DolphinGal, but it had gone straight to voicemail. He then called me as the second contact number listed with SPOT for her. He asked a few questions since he had no idea where she was. He told me that if he had received coordinates his mandatory action would require contacting Coast Guard.

The weather was good, but I was puzzled so I took his number and told him I would call back with her last coordinates from about ten minutes prior to the 911 message. A few minutes later while I was on the computer, he called to say he had now received a lat/lon and was calling the Coast Guard. I made sure he would give them my phone number.

Moments later Petty Officer Webb rang me up and started asking questions. She was nice, yet all business. I gave her DolphinGal's description, the type and description of the vessel and other facts such as she was solo. In response to question I was asked, and with Chief's words ringing in my memory, I told officer Webb that DolphinGal was traveling down the coast on a distance trip, but avoided going into any details. While we were talking she had the Fort Myers Beach CG on another line and they were scrambling. I was calm but concerned. Officer Webb terminated the call and confirmed that I could call back in a while for further information.

I know the boats the CG station has and I know the area, having sailed off Ft. Myers Beach for over 30 years. I knew it would not take more than 30 minutes to reach her and possibly as quick as 15. Nothing to do but wait. Meanwhile the Spot tracker was sending out GPS coordinates as text messages to my phone every ten minutes.

I call the CG after about 30 minutes. Petty Officer Minutella has taken over. I guess Webb went off shift. She tells me she is in contact with the rescue boat and they have “hands on” DolphinGal and she is well. I find it hard to describe how wonderful that sounded. Yay!!! doesn't quite cover it. We end the call and Officer Minutella tells me the CG vessel is heading to shore.

A bit later from the CG station I learned that DolphinGal was on her way to a hospital for a check-up and possible hypothermia. Petty Officer Minutella allayed any concern and says it doesn't mean anything is wrong but that it’s standard procedure when the CG pulls someone out of the water and they’ve been in it more than x-amount of time and/or the water temp is less than some number.

Next I remembered (somehow) that part of being a shore contact person was to inform race management of pertinent happenings. I made the call to Pelican and relayed all that I could.

DolphinGal can tell the rest of the story. I just want to emphasize one thing - I now understand what URGENT means at the top of a SPOT text message. It only happens when the 911 button has been pushed. SPOT continued to broadcast lat/long at ten minute intervals until it was shut off.

I hope this recounting of the events from the shore contact end might help someone in the future.

Note from DolphinGal: I had my SPOT page set up to send Help and OK messages directly to Deena’s phone.

Copyright ©2011 Deena



10 Lessons From the USCG's 2009 Accident Report - 09/01/2010

This year's USCG accident report for 2009 is a treasure trove of insight as to what causes
boating accidents and fatalities, and by inference, how to avoid such calamities -- and we
draw 10 important lessons from the data. Less than 2% of fatalities (just 14) were due to
equipment or engine failure, which means that the remaining causes for 98% of last year's
736 boating fatalities rest primarily with the boat operators in one way or another.

Capsizing in a small boat is the single biggest hazard. Overloading and improper loading are
primary causes of this calamity.

Much is made each year by the USCG, the Power Squadrons, other boating groups and media
sources, including this publication, of boating accidents. These organizations all do it to
advance operator awareness in hopes of reducing boating accidents and fatalities. Based on
the 2009 USCG Accident Statistics that were released last month, we can only conclude that
these efforts are generally successful as boating fatalities are 40% lower for boats per
100,000 registered vehicles, than for a like number of automobiles.

In 2008 there were 14.5 deaths per 100,000 registered automobiles vs. just 5.8 deaths in
2009 per 100,000 registered boats. And while the comparisons might be quite different if
operating hours or miles traveled were compared, the fact remains that boating is a
relatively safe sport compared to riding in the family automobile.

Last year there were 12.7 million registered boats, including canoes, kayaks and dinghies,
4,730 reported accidents, and 736 fatalities.

Here are what we feel are the 10 most important lessons learned--

1. Any accident could be lethal.

15.5% (1 in 6) of reported boating accidents result in a death. Over the last 13 years the
number of reported accidents has dropped by 40% and reported injuries have dropped 24%, but
the number of deaths have remained about the same. This leads us to believe that boaters are
now reporting only the more serious accidents. Nevertheless, life is a delicate thing, and
any boating accident has the potential for disaster.

2. Stay out of the water.

73.7% of boating deaths are the direct result of drowning. It seems obvious, but staying
inside the vessel is probably the most important thing any boater can do to stay alive. 85%
of the 543 drowning victims were in boats 26' or smaller, including canoes, kayaks, dinghies
and PWCs.

Only three people died in 2009 as a direct result of the boat they were on sinking. Only
five died as the result of fire or an explosion, and only one died of CO exposure.

This statistic is why the USCG is constantly harping on wearing PFDs. Most people who wear
them and end up in the water survive. And most of the people in the water who drown, aren't
wearing them.

3. PFDs save lives.

Only 1.6% of drowning victims were 12 or under. Because children 12 and under are required
to wear PFDs, most do, and as a result they survive when thrown in the water when their
parents without PFDs do not. Of the 9 children 12 and under who drowned in 2009, most were
not wearing PFDs. The PFD laws for kids are working! They could do the same for adults if
they would only wear them.

4. Avoid collisions with boats and objects of any kind.

16.5% of boating deaths were the direct result of a collision with something. We often joke
about a collision at sea ruining one's whole day, but it is no laughing matter. And while
collisions with other recreational vessels was the leading cause of death in this category
(52), it was followed closely by hitting a fixed object (41). 13 deaths were caused by
hitting a submerged object and another 13 people died because a commercial vessel was hit.

Together these two causes of death -- drowning and collision -- account for over 90% of all
boating fatalities. By staying inside the boat, keeping dry, and avoiding a collision with
anything, boaters can avoid nearly all watersports tragedies.

4. Be extra careful on small outboard boats.

53.3% of boating deaths occurred to people in "open motorboats." This statistic is not a
surprise. These are the types of boats that are most likely to be overloaded, improperly
loaded, and are the easiest to capsize. They are the most vulnerable to bad weather or rough
sea conditions, and have the least protection in case of a collision. It means that
operators of motorboats under 20' need to be particularly aware of what they are doing and
of their surroundings. Unfortunately, this is where we find the most inexperienced boaters
because this type of boat is generally where new-comers enter the sport.

5. Capsizing is the single biggest danger.

40.5% of fatalities were due to capsizing, flooding or swamping. Most boats that capsize are
under 26'. All of the safety precautions taken by the designers and builders of large
powerboats to prevent capsize is paying off as only three boats in 2009 over 40' capsized,
and of those only one was over 65.' Small boats can capsize even in flat conditions, so this
possibility should be uppermost in a skipper's mind.

6. Don't fool with Mother Nature.

The leading "contributing factor" to boating fatalities was weather and water conditions --
24%. There is a reason why we have special VHF radio channels for 24/7 weather broadcasts
and the USCG issues small craft warnings. Small, open boats are vulnerable because of their
low freeboard and ability to easily ship large quantities of water faster than they can
discharge it. Weather, overloading, swamping and the inevitable capsize are the Bermuda
Triangle of small open boats. Weather and hazardous water conditions were primary
contributing factors to 178 boating deaths last year.

Alcohol ranked #2 as a "primary" contributing factor, and the USCG reported that it was the
primary factor in 120 deaths.

7. Be alert!

"Operator Inattention" ranks #1 as a primary "contributing factor" to 2009's boat accidents.
When driving an automobile virtually everyone is aware that even a moment of inattention can
-- and usually does -- end up in an accident. However, many boaters tend to be complacent
about their responsibilities as the vehicle operator. After all, the boat is only going 20
mph and there are not many other boats on the water, goes the thinking.

When "operator inattention" is combined with "improper lookout," about 25% of the accidents
last year can be accounted for. Combine those two factors with "operator inexperience" and
you have the three contributing factors in over 1/3rd of the boating accidents.

8. Being close to land doesn't make things safer.

89.4% of all boating deaths took place in "protected water." As much as we all consider
oceans, gulfs and the Great Lakes as the bodies of water that we must be most careful about,
the fact is that most fatalities occur in what we consider to be "protected water." 44.8%
(330) of all boat deaths in 2009 happened in lakes (not the Great Lakes), ponds, reservoirs,
and gravel pits, according to the USCG.

Another 30% (221) of the tragedies took place in "rivers, streams, creeks, swamps and
bayous" -- not places where most boaters would feel threatened. Finally, 14.5% (107) of
deaths took place in "bays, inlets, marinas, sounds, harbors, channels, canals, sloughs, and
coves." While bays and sounds can be quite large, the fact remains that most fatal boating
accidents happen close to shore, not on the high seas.

Only 10.6% of 2009 recreational marine fatalities were reported to have happened in the
oceans, gulfs or the Great Lakes.

9. Speed doesn't kill, people do.

58% of all fatalities took place in vessels traveling less than 20 mph. Most boaters are
rightly apprehensive about high-speed motorboats being driven by less than adequate
skippers, but in 2009 only 1.6% (12) of the fatalities were involved with boats going 40 mph
or faster.

10. Build your sea time.

86% of fatal accidents involve operators with under 500 hours of experience. On the subject
of boater experience, the USCG had information on only 400 of the 736 fatal accidents.
However, assuming that the experience of the operators in the other cases had the same
distribution as the 400, it means that lack of boating experience is probably the biggest
problem of all when it comes to accidents. Indeed, only 7.7% of the operators involved in
the fatal accidents had 500 hours or more of boating experience.

75.6% of the operators of boats involved in fatal accidents had not taken a boating course
of any kind!

There is simply no substitute for getting sea-time. Even if you are not the skipper, you can
learn valuable lessons being a passenger. Pay attention to what the helmsman is doing and
learn from it, both from what is being done correctly and incorrectly.


Pa. man, 18, drowns trying to retrieve canoe in cold waters

of reservoir near Kinzua Dam

By Associated Press
8:23 AM EDT, October 19, 2009

WARREN, Pa. (AP) — State police say an 18-year-old man has drowned in the Allegheny Reservoir near Kinzua Dam while swimming in cold water while attempting to
retrieve a canoe.

State police say David Sarber, of Cooperstown, drowned Saturday morning.

Police say Sarber was camping with a friend when their canoe drifted from shore about 7 a.m. in Mead Township. Sarber jumped into the water to swim to the canoe then
got back out to remove the outer layers of his clothes.

Police say Sarber then jumped back into the water, but was overcome by the cold water and drowned.

Sarber's friend had to walk several miles for help. Emergency crews were called about 8:45 a.m. and divers found Sarber's body about 10:30 a.m.



Click here for information about,

PCC Member Dale Herrick Drowns In Boating Accident

On Schuylkill River June 28, 2008



The search resumes Monday morning for the missing rafter in the Staircase Rapids

on the Delaware River in the Town of Lumberland.


LUMBERLAND — As authorities ended a second day of searching for a man who is believed to have drowned Sunday afternoon on the Delaware River, the National Park Service is pursuing changes to a policy regarding life jackets.


State police released the man's name on Monday, identifying him as Hin Siu, 36, of Jamaica. A rented raft carrying Siu and three others flipped in high, fast water around 2 p.m. in the Staircase Rapids near Pond Eddy. Siu, who was not wearing a life jacket, was pulled under by the current as two rescuers tried in vain to throw him a rescue vest. They rescued Siu's friends, but could only watch as he went under the rapids.



This was the second drowning on the Delaware River this year; on July 26, a New Jersey man drowned while swimming near a Damascus Township, Pa., campground. Five people drowned in the river in 2008. Since 1980, 56 people have drowned in the Upper Delaware. Only three were wearing life jackets — and those weren't fastened properly. The average age of the people who drowned is 28.


"These people could have been saved," said Vidal Martinez, superintendent of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. "This is why I am addressing with the Upper Delaware Council and liveries to institute a mandatory requirement that life jackets be worn when the water level reaches 6 feet or above."


In the summer water levels are between 31/2 and 4 feet at the Barryville gauge.


Currently, children under 12 are required to wear life jackets while on boats or rafts. Adults must have a life jacket with them at all times (there's a $75 fine if they don't) but aren't required to wear them.


The great majority not people wearing life jackets are men. Of the 56 who have drowned since 1980, 53 were men.


Martinez said late Monday afternoon that he is reaching out to the liveries and the UDC to make them aware that he plans to use the authority granted him by the federal regulations to issue this special order.


"It's time for people to come together so we can deal with this frustrating occurrence," he said.


Authorities on Sunday searched several miles of river for more than three hours, but called off the search around 5 p.m.


Dive teams from the state police returned Monday morning and ended their search just before 5 p.m. They will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.



Accident Database: Accident #2438

River: Esopus Creek
Location: Rt. 28 Bridge, Shandaken, NY
Gauge: 767 cfs
Water Level: Medium
Difficulty: II
Accident Code(s): Tree Pin
Injury Code(s): Fatal
Age: 52
Experienced/Inexperienced: Inexperienced
Years Paddling:  
Private/Commercial: Private
Boat Type: Kayak - Unknown
Boat Manufacturer:  
Boat Model: Rec Kayak
Number of Occupants: 1
Number in Group: 5
Number of Victims: 1
Other Victim Names:  
Hazard Codes: Natural Strainer or Sieve
Initial Report: A members of my club (KCCNY) forwarded the message and picture below relating to the drowning on Esopus Creek on July 15. The Coldbrook gauge which is not far downstream of the Mt. Tremper Bridge was running around 767cfs with the release this weekend. The attached picture was taken today with flow at the gauge in the 310-320cfs range. The difficulty was in the I-II range. Lauren is correct this is below the whitewater section used by advanced boaters but is a section used for training beginner to novice level boaters. Strainers have been a probelm for the Esopus since before the flood of April 2005. The bottom of this creek is loose sand and clay and constantly erodes. You may recall that a kayaker and a tuber drowned in seperate incidents in either 2000 or 2001. Thank you for continuing to collect accident data so we can learn and hopefully avoid so many drownings in the future. Dave King, KCCNY The spot she got caught in isn't normally difficult at all. With the levels we had over the weekend (750 cfs at Cold Brook) there shouldn't have been anything more than some moderate current and small (under 1 foot) waves. It's been a year since I've done that section, and that was at 1700 cfs. A friend went right with no problems, but I think the obvious route is center of the left channel. There were 5 people on the trip, the victim and her husband, another couple and another man. There was also at least one person driving the route, with the children of the other couple. It seems that the group wasn't sure where they would fish, or if the entire group would continue at any point. Their last stop before the incident was at the state parking area on 28, and it sounds like the victim had considered taking out, because she wasn't sure she was sufficiently experienced. It sounds like the plan was to paddle through the center span of the bridge, which has 2 piers between the abutments, and the victim was the third one down. The others initially tried to paddle back upstream, then went to the shore (presumably river left), which is large rip rap (similar to, but smaller than at RR rapids). It took multiple attempts until they were able to swim to to where she was pinned. They were able to extricate her without difficulty once they got to her, but by them 10 minutes had elapsed. The strainer is definitely very nasty and could easily get an inexperienced paddler who chooses the center span. My guess would be that she made a late decision to switch which side of the bridge she wanted to take and didn't get far enough left or right. I'm assuming she capsized as a result of being swept into the strainer, rather than beforehand. It's also possible that the tree is fairly large and blocks enough of the channel to be a problem, or maybe she simply flipped at just the wrong time and in the wrong spot. The 3 kayaks belonging to the vcitim and the two rescuers are still missing. A man unfamiliar with kayaking, said the two boats he did see are different than mine; sort of like pontoons on a seaplane. I'm figuring they're some kind of recreational boat, but perhaps they could also be something like a Dagger GT or a Diesel. If I have time in the next day or two maybe I'll go looking for them. This happened just a day after I watched that tuber go under the log without so much as a pause. Steve McLuckie, KCCNY




Bowmanstown Girl, 10, Rescued After Being Trapped Underwater During Rafting Trip


A Saturday rafting trip on the Lehigh River in Carbon County nearly ended in tragedy when a 10-year-old girl was trapped underwater and lost consciousness, officials said.

The girl was rescued by another member of the rafting party — a paramedic who administered emergency breathing.

Scott J. Christman, a waterways conservation officer with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, gave this account:

The girl was on one of three large inflatable rafts making their way along the river near Bowmanstown shortly after 3 p.m.

The lead raft hit a ''strainer'' — a tree limb or other debris jutting from the water — and was hit by the second raft, which carried nine people, including the girl. The third raft then hit the second, causing it to capsize.

All the rafters were wearing flotation devices, but the girl was caught in the strainer and held underwater, Christman said.

The paramedic extricated and revived the girl. She was taken to Palmerton Hospital for observation, along with an adult woman who suffered a cut on the head when she fell into the water.

Christman would not release the names of the victim or the other rafters, but said the outing was a family affair and the girl and woman are from New York state.

Christman, who is based in Carbon County, said the increasing popularity of rafting has resulted in a dramatic increase in rescues. This was the ninth such incident his agency has responded to since the end of June.



Man drowns in Delaware


State police investigate the drowning on the Delaware River at Barryville yesterday afternoon.


Times Herald-Record/MICHELE HASKELL


Barryville — A 37-year-old man from Paterson, N.J., mysteriously drowned while swimming among a crowd of people yesterday on the Delaware River.

State police speculate that Brian Lennon might have stepped into the 10-foot-deep section of the mostly shallow waters and panicked. He was an average swimmer, in good shape and had not been drinking, said state investigator Vincent Boyd.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Witnesses on shore said someone shouted for help when he saw Lennon struggling, but most of the campers on shore and the rafters on the river near him seemed struck with disbelief, they said.

"They (the rafters) were just kinda watching," said Gene Alligood, a Pennsylvania resident who was staying at the same Kittatinny campgrounds as Lennon and his family.

Then, realizing the distress call was serious, people began jumping in the water, but it was too late, Alligood said.

Kittatinny officials declined comment. A lifeguard is on duty for the campsite's pool but not for swimmers in the river.

"We saw him struggling, splashing and yelling for help, and then all of a sudden, we didn't see his head anymore," Alligood said.

The Sullivan County dive team retrieved Lennon's body 45 minutes after he went under.

The team was helped by Highland Town Constable Marc Anthony and state police.

Officials from the dive team said they found Lennon's body near the spot where he had drowned.

Eleven agencies responded to the call for water rescue, which came at 2 p.m.

Lennon's wife, Migdaris, 33, declined to talk to reporters. The family, including the Lennons' 13-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, had been camping with their extended family.

Most in the party of 15 had left the campsite after the accident yesterday.

This is the second drowning on the Delaware this year.

The first, in February, happened when a boat capsized, killing one of two teens who were fishing and not wearing life vests.

Yesterday's accident was the first time a swimmer, not a boater, has drowned in almost two years.

The previous drowning was within a mile of the same stretch of the river in Barryville, said officials with the Sullivan County dive team.

The county has an average of five to nine drownings a year, officials said.



Man perishes in river, may be victim of rapids

Today staff

Wednesday June 21, 2006

Fort McMurray Today — He was an avid canoeist taking a trip before starting a new job, but Garnet Eriksson never made it back home.
A family canoeing on the Athabasca River found the 39-year-old’s body near the Mountain rapids four kilometres south of Fort McMurray on Saturday. His family said he was making a two-week trip from his home in Fox Creek to McMurray before starting a new job.
The man was wearing a life jacket, police said. While autopsy results are still to come in, he had injuries consistent with bumping his head. Police don’t consider the death suspicious.
John Semple, owner of Fort McMurray outdoor company Points North Adventures, said Eriksson could have met his fate at any of the rapids upstream of Fort McMurray and continued to float downstream. “The Mountain rapids themselves are not that dangerous of a rapid. The rapids upstream are more dangerous.”
The most dangerous spot is the Grand rapids is between Fort McMurray and the Town of Athabasca. Depending on the water flow, the Grand rapids can reach class 5 on a rapids rating scale of six. A class 6 rapid is basically a waterfall, Semple noted. “It’s not a rapid that you want to canoe,” Semple said of the Grand rapids, which are full of rocks and boulders.
It’s unclear where or how Eriksson ran into trouble. Semple noted there are about seven rapids between Fort McMurray and Athabasca that could pose a danger.
He added he’s rescued many canoeists who’ve capsized in the rapids over the years.
To keep safe, he said, canoeists should wear helmets and advise police of their travel plans before they leave.





Two friends survive after canoe capsizes


Thursday, January 12, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff


They'd grown up canoeing and swimming in the Delaware River, and so were unafraid of its dark, slow-moving waters.


Jody Suozzo of Stockton and his two friends decided to celebrate Suozzo's 26th birthday with a midnight canoe ride, but the trip ended almost as soon as it began when the canoe capsized and pitched them into the frigid water shortly after 1 a.m. yesterday.


The two friends, Samuel Rocco and John Dunn, both 22, managed to make it to the riverbank and go for help, but Suozzo apparently never emerged from the water. A massive search-and-rescue effort for the missing man was called off at dusk and is to resume today.


"They were all good swimmers," said Dunn's mother, Kate, who got a call from her son at 2:30 a.m. to pick him up at the hospital. "But the water was so cold. The boys that got out said it was so cold, they didn't feel their limbs."


Rocco, of Stockton, and Dunn, of Lambertville, were able to get to shore. Dunn walked to the Lambertville Police Department at 1:20 a.m. to report the canoe had capsized. Police and members of the Lambertville-New Hope Ambulance and Rescue squad went to the riverbank north of the Route 202 toll bridge, where they found Rocco.


New Jersey State Police Sgt. James Heitzman said Dunn and Rocco were taken to Hunterdon Medical Center, where they were treated for hypothermia and released. He said there was no indication alcohol played any part in the accident.


A State Police helicopter was called in to search the river as water rescue teams from around the area were summoned to help the Lambertville-New Hope squad.


Frank Veneziale, deputy coordinator for the Hunterdon County Office of Emergency Management, said there were 150 rescue workers on the scene, from as far away as Princeton. At one point more than a dozen boats -- some bearing teams of divers -- were navigating the river along a swath of the river several miles long, from just north of the free bridge between Lambertville and New Hope to the "wing" dam that spans the river south of the city.


Veneziale said 10 rescue dogs were brought in to search the river and its banks for signs of the missing man as a cold fog enveloped the area.


Although divers were on the scene, only a few were actually put in the water because conditions made it difficult to work. Mike Blasberg of Garden State Underwater Recovery, shivered as he changed out of his wet suit after spending 20 minutes in the water.


"It's cold, zero visibility. It's a 'pearl dive,'" he said, explaining the only way a diver would be able to find a submerged body would be to feel it by hand.


Suozzo -- who is the son of former Stockton Councilman Anthony Suozzo and grandson of former Stockton Mayor Anthony Suozzo -- Dunn and Rocco have been friends since middle school. Despite their age difference, their friendship lasted beyond high school, cemented by a love for music that led them to play in local bands together.


Their other bond was the river, and having grown up on the banks of the Delaware, they went canoeing and swinging off the ropes on Bull's Island.


Kate Dunn said she always worried her son and his friends didn't appreciate the dangers of the river.


"I would tell my son, 'The river is not your friend,'" she said.


She said the three men, all graduates of South Hunterdon Regional High School, decided to celebrate Suozzo's birthday on the river, even though it was after midnight. They jumped in a canoe -- police said the men had found it along the river months earlier -- and paddled just above the toll bridge, where they could see the lights. But something happened and the canoe tipped over.


Kate Dunn said the men had grown up around the river and felt perfectly comfortable on it. She said none of them wore life jackets, which was confirmed by the State Police, who added Suozzo was believed to be wearing layers of clothes, which may have made it difficult to swim as they became saturated in the 35-degree water.


Kate Dunn and others who knew Suozzo described him as an adventurous, fun-loving young man who had many friends in the Lambertville area. As a schoolboy, he would be the one to organize games and activities. Over this past summer, he went backpacking out West.


"Someplace wild," she said.


After high school, Dunn said, Suozzo had gone to school in England and earned a degree. He wanted to do something in the area of conflict resolution, having been a peer counselor in high school, but hadn't found a job in his field and was working at Phillips Fine Wines in Stockton.


Erin Phillips, whose father owns the wine shop, and Kendra Benitez, who were friends of Suozzo, were so upset about the accident they were searching the riverbanks themselves. They said other groups of friends were doing the same.


"John was always very fond of the water and he spent all hours of the day out on the river," said Erin. "They always went out on the river. They would canoe the river and have fun. We're not giving up yet."


Dunn said her son was distraught over what had happened, and that Suozzo's many friends were very upset.


"Jody was a good guy and highly regarded and the boys of the town will be mourning him for a long time to come," she said.


In Buck's Coffee, an eatery and coffee shop on Bridge Street in Lambertville, a woman who said Suozzo had been the best man at her son's wedding was tearful.


"I feel so bad for them," the woman, who declined to give her name, said of Suozzo's family members. "It's breaking our hearts."


James Bellamy, who went to South Hunterdon Regional High School with Suozzo, Rocco and Dunn, said he had been shocked to learn his friends had taken a late- night boat ride.


"I didn't see it coming," Bellamy said. "It's not the time of year to go on canoe rides or anything like that."


Alyssa Haveson, 17, left her school in Newtown to go to Lambertville after Bellamy, her boyfriend, called her and told her about the incident. She called Suozzo "a nice guy, really friendly."


"You never realize that something like that can happen to somebody that you know until it actually happens," Haveson said.



Staff writer Jennifer Weiss contributed to this report.


Stockton man missing in Delaware River; search resumes
By: Mae Rhine, Managing Editor 01/11/2006

Police think 26-year-old Anthony "Jody" Suozzo IV was celebrating his birthday by taking a midnight canoe trip with two friends.

   The search in the Delaware River and along its banks for a 26-year-old Stockton man, who, officials think, had been celebrating his birthday by taking a midnight canoe trip with two friends, resumed at 7 a.m. Thursday morning.

   But it now is considered "search and recovery" as "hope is dwindling" Anthony "Jody" Suozzo IV will be found alive, said Lt. Gerald Lewis, a state police spokesman, on Thursday.

   The search has been suspended at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday due to "deteriorating weather conditions," according to Sgt. Jeanne Hengemuhle, another state police spokesperson.

   Mr. Suozzo is the son of former Stockton Borough Councilman Anthony Suozzo III and grandson of former Stockton Mayor Anthony Suozzo Jr.

   State Police Sgt. James Heitzman said the three young men were in the canoe Wednesday morning, which capsized outside of Stockton in the river across the road from Trap Rock Quarry.

   The other two, identified as Samuel Rocco III, 22, of Stockton, and John Dunn, 22, of Lambertville, managed to swim to shore, police said. Mr. Dunn, according to Sgt. Hengemuhle, walked into the Lambertville police station to report the incident at 1:20 a.m. Mr. Rocco was found a few minutes later in the woods along the shore, she said.

   Both men were taken to Hunterdon Medical Center in Raritan Township, treated and released, then interviewed by state police.

   Sgt. Hengemuhle said she had nothing official, but "we have been hearing" the three were celebrating Mr. Suozzo's birthday with the midnight canoe trip, and "this was something they did every year."

   When The Beacon called the elder Mr. Suozzo's house Wednesday afternoon, a woman, identifying herself only as Mary Jo, said he didn't want to talk to reporters.

   Sgt. Hengemuhle said the Suozzo family had been at the search site earlier in the day.

   Weary rescue personnel and police were seen during the day, resting and keeping warm in their vehicles near the Lambertville Sewerage Authority where a command post had been set up around 7:30 a.m.

   Emergency vehicles and police cars were surrounded by news vans from all three major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as cameras and reporters from the various TV stations and area newspapers. A van from North Penn Goodwill Service was serving coffee and refreshments to tired emergency workers.

   About 150 rescue personnel and police from about 25 different agencies, including state police and Coast Guard helicopters, were involved in the search, which had been "scaled back" around midmorning Wednesday, according to Frank Veneziale, deputy coordinator of the Hunterdon County Office of Emergency Management. The search concentrated on the New Jersey side of the river.

   Sgt. Hengemuhle said the temperature of the water in the river at the time of the accident was 35.4 degrees. The depth was anywhere from 5 to 20 feet and the speed of the water was about 4 knots, she said.

   "They didn't make it far" down the river from where they put the canoe in, Sgt. Heitzman said. "It (the river) was moving pretty good."

   "The illusion" is the river is pretty tranquil, Sgt. Heitzman said, "but it's moving at a pretty good rate."

   There were, "at any given time," 10 to 15 boats in the river conducting a search, Mr. Veneziale said. In addition, search dogs and rescue personnel searched along the shore, particularly in the wooded areas.

   The banks of the river were searched twice, he said, once during the early morning hours and again after 7 a.m. during daylight.

   As of midmorning, the search was concentrated in the area just below Stockton down river to as far south as Fireman's Island, just below the Lambertville line, and would be stretched later in the day to as far south as Trenton, he said.
   "This area (Lambertville) is our major focus," Mr. Veneziale said.

   Outlining the search, Mr. Veneziale said, "We started off with the squad (Lambertville)," which has an air rescue boat and other equipment for river rescues as well as ground searches. Then additional boats and personnel were called in, he said, as the grid searches along the shore began.

   This was not the first time Mr. Dunn needed the help of emergency workers.

   Nov. 1, 2003, during a rock-climbing outing in West Amwell, a rock broke loose and hit Mr. Dunn in the face, knocking him unconscious.

   Mr. Dunn, then 19, was airlifted by helicopter to St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa. His companion, Mike Falcone, 22, of Trenton, was not injured. Mr. Dunn was treated and released.

   He and his friend were on private property when the accident occurred, according to West Amwell police, but no charges were filed.

   Police said the two were about 700 feet above Route 29 when the accident occurred. Township police and the Lambertville-New Hope Ambulance and Rescue Squad were notified at 4:47 p.m., although it wasn't clear whether Mr. Falcone used a cell phone or some other means to call for help.

   Police and rescue personnel met Mr. Falcone at the Rooster's Coop on Route 29. They followed him on foot to a site known locally as the old Boy Scout camp, off George Washington Road, above River Road. The site was formerly a quarry.

   Emergency personnel and police called in the Hunterdon County Emergency Rescue Team, a unit specially trained to deal with treacherous rescues. Emergency crews worked for several hours, long after dark, to secure Mr. Dunn and remove him from the cliff, according to police.

   Involved in the rescue efforts Wednesday were the Lambertville-New Hope squad, the Lambertville Fire Department, Lambertville Office of Emergency Management, Lambertville police, New Hope Eagle Fire Company, Stockton Fire Company, Stockton First Aid Squad, Delaware Township police, Delaware Township Office of Emergency Management, Amwell Valley Ambulance Corps, Flemington-Raritan First Aid and Rescue Squad, Titusville Union Fire Company and Rescue Squad, West Amwell Fire Company, West Amwell police, New Jersey State Police, Northstar MedEvac helicopter, Hunterdon County Department of Public Safety, Hunterdon County Office of Emergency Management, Raritan Township Fire Company, North Penn Goodwill Service, Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, Hunterdon Medical Center Mobile Intensive Care Unit, Capital Health System Mobile Intensive Care Unit, Point Pleasant Fire Company, Palisades Search and Rescue (search dogs) in Lambertville, Clinton First Aid and Rescue Squad, United States Coast Guard, Upper Black Eddy Fire Company, Pennington Road Fire Company, Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, Lambertville Sewerage Authority, West Jersey K9 Search and Rescue, New Jersey Rescue and Recovery and Central Jersey Technical Rescue.

  Boats were provided by the Lambertville-New Hope squad, state police, New Hope Eagle Fire Company, Whitehouse First Aid and Rescue Squad, Titusville-Union Fire Company and Clinton First Aid and Rescue Squad.


High winds, waves blamed in kayaker's death in Ocean County.

By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, (609) 463-6712
Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Updated: Wednesday, November 30, 2005
OCEAN CITY-State Marine Police concluded their investigation into the drowning of a 75-year-old kayaker from Malvern, Pa.
But the investigation turned up few additional clues into what caused Donald Rogge's 9-foot kayak to capsize in Ocean City's back bay on Thanksgiving.
Rogge kayaked in the bay for four hours. At about 5:30 p.m., he landed the kayak at the island nearest Ocean City just across from the Route 52 drawbridge. This island is home to the Ocean City Welcome Center. He walked up the bridge's narrow catwalk to the bridge tender's building and asked to borrow a phone.
State Police Trooper Perry Capiak said Rogge phoned his family to let them know he would be late but would be home shortly. Then he launched his kayak from the Welcome Center island and headed off into the darkness across the bay toward 18th Street.
Rogge's family reported him missing and overdue about 7 p.m., prompting a search by the U.S. Coast Guard, State Marine Police and the Ocean City Fire Department. Rogge's body was found about two hours later floating in the 54-degree water in a life vest near his kayak near 12th Street. He was not wearing a wetsuit.
An autopsy concluded Rogge drowned. The weather conditions were especially harsh as a cold front moved into the area that evening. The National Weather Service issued a small-craft advisory that day warning of strong, gusting winds.
"That's where he made the mistake. When he left, it was in complete darkness," Capiak said. "The wind was coming from the west across these islands. As soon as he crossed the lee of those islands, that's where he overturned."
To e-mail Michael Miller at The Press:

Kayaker, 75, Drowns in Ocean City

The following is from an article in the Press of Atlantic City, by Michael Miller Nov 26, 2005.  
Although not specifically stated, one must assume hypothermia.
An unfortunate reminder to all. Proper clothing, "expect the unexpected.
No matter how old, life is always too short".
A 75-year-old kayaker drowned in the back bay Thursday night after his 9-foot boat apparently capsized in strong, gusting winds.
State Marine Police in Atlantic City said Donald Rogge of Malvern, Pa., was reported missing and overdue shortly after 7 p.m.
Ocean City and State Marine police said Rogge hailed a drawbridge tender on the Ocean City side of the Route 52 causeway. These workers raise and lower the two drawbridges so large boats can pass beneath this state highway stretching between Ocean City and Somers Point. Rogge asked the tender to call his family and let them know he would be home shortly, police said. But he never arrived. \

The U.S. Coast Guard launched a helicopter to scour the water from the air. State Marine Police launched search boats. The Ocean City Fire Department used the giant six-light stack on its heavy rescue truck to illuminate the Intra-coastal Waterway between Ninth and 13th streets.
The National Weather Service issued a small-craft advisory Thursday afternoon that warned of gusting winds as a cold front moved into southern New Jersey.
Rogge was found floating in a life vest in the 54-degree water near 12th Street some distance from his kayak. He was pronounced dead at 9:37 p.m. at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point.
An autopsy Friday determined that Rogge drowned. The manner of death was accidental, police said.
State Marine Trooper Perry Capiak said the death was a tragic accident.
"The main cause of this was the winds, the temperature and the limited light. All of that contributed to this unfortunate accident," he said.
Capiak said there were virtually no boaters on the water when Rogge's kayak apparently capsized late Thursday. Even if he were able to call for help, it is likely none of the bayfront property owners heard him over the howling wind.
"If this happens in the summertime, you have 400 people who can give you a hand," Capiak said.
Romaine Samworth of Malvern lived for decades across the street from Rogge. She did not know about his interest in kayaking but said that did not surprise her. He stayed physically fit playing golf and tending his backyard garden, she said.
"He had delicious tomatoes this summer that he shared with us," she said. "My husband and I are totally blind, so we wouldn't see him coming or going. But he was a nice neighbor. He was about the only neighbor who talked to us."
Rogge had three grown children, she said.
"He had delicious tomatoes". Let that not be your epitaph.
Proper clothing at all times. Guard against cold shock.

Two presumed dead after canoe accident

11/28/2005, 2:22 p.m. ET
The Associated Press

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) - A 21-year-old woman and 16-year-old boy were presumed dead after falling out of a canoe in near-freezing weather over the weekend, authorities said.

Ashley Coury of Florida and Brian Raleigh of Plymouth have been missing since the boat overturned in Great South Pond on Saturday night, when temperatures were in the 30s.

Two others who were in the canoe with them were rescued soon after and were being treated for hypothermia, Fire Chief Jim Pierson said. Their conditions were not released.

The search for Coury and Raleigh shifted from rescue to recovery Sunday morning with more than a dozen divers and a helicopter. The recovery effort resumed Monday. By morning, only the canoe, a sneaker and a baseball cap were found, Pierson said.

Relatives of the survivors told investigators the group attended a birthday party Saturday night, then decided to head to the pond without life jackets.

The pond stretches more than a half-mile across, and is as deep as 50 feet in some spots. The pond is surrounded by summer cottages on the outskirts of Plymouth, about 45 miles southeast of Boston.

Investigators were unsure why the canoe apparently capsized; an inspection revealed no obvious problems with the boat, Pierson said.

Coury's boyfriend, Dan Madden, 20, also of Florida, is one of the two survivors. The other is Michael Raleigh, 22, of Plymouth, Brian's half brother. Madden and Michael Raleigh are cousins.

Relatives said the group had attended a birthday party for one of their grandmothers.

Expert: Rarity caused Hawk Mountain death

Scientist says shift of boulder that killed woman is unusual.

By Michael Duck
and Joe McDonald Of The Morning Call

In a geologic occurrence an expert called ''blessedly rare,'' a 5- to 7-ton boulder on Hawk Mountain shifted suddenly Saturday, pinning and killing a Kutztown University freshman hiking in the area.

Sarae Rinker, 18, of Monroe County was trapped between the boulder and a tree for three hours but died after fire crews freed her, officials said.

''This is the only fatal [accident] we're aware of in the 70-some years that we've been here,'' said Lee C. Schisler Jr., president of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association. ''It was just a terrible tragedy.''

Saturday marked Rinker's first hike on Hawk Mountain, said her father, Richard Opshinsky, but she grew up hiking in the woods in the Poconos.

''We hiked all over,'' Opshinsky said. ''She always liked to hike with us. We did everything....''

Rinker, of Cresco, phoned home before the Hawk Mountain hike with her boyfriend, her father said. Kutztown sophomore Jessica Prostko said the boyfriend, David Zlockie, is a junior from West Chester and a community adviser in Johnson Hall, a dorm where Rinker lived.

''She was excited about going,'' her father said, fighting back tears Monday night after picking out flowers for her funeral.

Officials believe Rinker and Zlockie stepped off the trail around 2 p.m. to sit or stand on the boulder, which ''apparently unbalanced it,'' said Assistant Chief Dean Kniss of Kempton Fire Company.

As the boulder slid partway down the hill toward the trail, Kniss said, ''he was able to jump clear of it; she couldn't.''

Such shifts of big rocks can be caused by freezes and thaws, the vibration of earth-moving equipment or even the weight of hikers, said Helen Delano, a geologic scientist with the Pennsylvania Geological Survey in Middletown, Dauphin County. Fortunately, she said, sudden shifts like that are ''blessedly rare.''

The boulder was next to a trail leading to ''The Slide,'' an overlook near the northwest corner of the sanctuary's main ''Lookout Trail'' hiking loop. The spot is about a mile from the Hawk Mountain visitor center.

The rock pinned Rinker's lower abdomen against a tree that was about 15 or 16 inches in diameter, said Kniss, who was in charge of the rescue operation. He estimated the boulder was about 7 feet by 4 feet by 2 feet.

Much larger boulders dot Hawk Mountain, Delano said.

Even though the big rocks look stable, Delano said, they're actually moving downward, extremely slowly.

''They are on their way down the mountain,'' she said. ''If you're going to go scrambling around on them, you need to pay attention. ... They really are just a loose pile of boulders with nothing holding them in place but gravity.''

Firefighters hiked in with equipment ordinarily used to help car crash victims. Crews used heavy chains and airbags to lift the boulder, and a hydraulic rescue tool, often called the ''jaws of life,'' to push the boulder, Kniss said. By about 5 p.m., he said, they had moved it about 3 inches - just enough to free Rinker.

She was conscious the whole time, Kniss said, and a doctor was flown in to monitor her during the rescue.

Crews carried Rinker back down the trail and rushed her to the waiting helicopter, which flew her to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest.

But Rinker was pronounced dead at the hospital at 10:46 p.m., said Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim, who ruled the death an accident. The cause, he said, was hypothermia and blunt-force trauma.

The boulder that pinned Rinker also appeared to have moved other large rocks nearby, Kniss said.

By Monday, about 100 yards of the sanctuary's eight miles of trails were blocked off in that area.

''The area is closed until we make sure it's stabilized and safe,'' said caretaker Ryan Marino, who was standing guard at a strand of yellow ''caution'' tape and keeping curious hikers out of the area.

Emergency crews are called to Hawk Mountain about twice a year, said Mary Linkevich, public information specialist for the sanctuary. That's infrequent, Schisler said, considering the 2,600-acre sanctuary's yearly average of 50,000 visitors.

The sanctuary was founded in 1934.

Schisler stressed that the sanctuary's rules, which are printed on maps handed out to hikers, urge everyone to stay on trails. The rules also warn, ''Hike the trails at your own risk,'' and ''Beware of loose rocks.''

Delano said hiking trails are typically built to pass safely around boulder fields, but hikers often stray from the paths. That's particularly true on Hawk Mountain, where visitors are tempted to leave trails in search of better views of the raptors.

When asked if the accident might prompt any changes, such as more warning signs, Schisler responded, ''We're reviewing everything right now.''

Rinker was a 2005 National Honor Society graduate at Pocono Mountain High School-East. She majored in in elementary education at Kutztown.

''I feel heartbroken I have to tell my students in class tonight,'' said Tracy Keyes, one of her Kutztown professors, describing Rinker as a stellar student. ''We are really going to miss her presence.''

Pictures of a smiling Rinker serving up ice cream cones were posted on a makeshift memorial behind the counter at Eats and Sweets, the roadside pizzeria and ice cream shop on Route 611 in Scotrun where she worked for four years.

''In loving memory, Sarae,'' the memorial reads.

Pete Kocsis, a Swiftwater man who is a regular customer, was picking up a bag of hamburgers for his dogs when he learned Rinker had been killed. Someone earlier in the day had mentioned about a terrible accident involving a local person who had been crushed by a stone. Restaurant owner Glenn Ryerson told him it was Rinker.

''Unreal,'' Kocsis said. ''She was such a sweetheart.''

''She was very nice,'' said Ryerson's wife, Damaris, wiping a tear from her eye. ''She was the best.''

Ryerson said Rinker was one of his best hires ever.

''She was the top 1 percent of the staff,'' he said. ''If I knew I could have a daughter like her, I'd take two.''

Opshinsky knew what he meant.

''She was an amazing person,'' her father said ''If you had a chance to meet her, you'd feel the same way.''

The funeral will be Wednesday in Monroe County.


Reporters Daniel Patrick Sheehan, Genevieve Marshall and Dalondo Moultrie contributed to this story.

Initial Report on near-hypothermia on October 2005, Mullica
Halloween Camping Event

Message From: Xpress Surveys LLC Brian [ ]
Sent: Sunday, November 13, 2005 7:59 PM
Subject: RE: questions re. Halloween trip

The short answer is maybe 8 to 10 they would have been in the 3rd of four beach so they would have been in the middle.

The ocsj was a 9:30 meet the Mohawk was a 9:00 meet , I was there at 8:30am. At 9:15 there were maybe 5 or 6 cars they were defiantly the Mohawks, but by 9:20 there were bell haven canoe renters at least one private party with two canoes on a new van and at least twenty cars at 9:30 I followed what I thought was the first group of cars to the put in, but there were another 7 or 8 cars there and at least five kayaks lined up on the bank not sure who they were. I left with the first shuttle group a few minutes later, when we came back another group was just shuttling there cars this should have put them about an hour behind us. I followed a couple from PA Eric who is deaf and his girl friend who were the first canoe of the group after 3 minutes we hit a snag that had five or six canoes mostly aluminum or Coleman ram-x trying to portage though the stickers. after I got under and help two wooden canoes and five or six kayaks a few canoes got under by them selves I thought I was in the middle or toward the back. maybe an hour later a 30ish construction from Monmouth county with a yellow-sit-on top dunked and was being helped on marsh bank one foot deep in just as I arrived. I only flip his kayak upside down on my canoe two drain it, they were going to pump it, but once he was back in with his spry skirt he should have been warm later at the lunch break he had a green tarp wrapped around him, but he was talking and seamed fine. next I came upon a 20 year old in a blue kayak his grandfather was helping him empty his canoe, he just wringed his shirt out and instead on paddling even thought he was wet, when I saw him later that night drying his clothes by the fire he looked fine. That was all before lunch at the beaver dam.

After the dam Greg a 60ish man (old folded cowboy type hat) who said he had been a member of ocsj and a longtime camper at Mullica stayed with us, we both believed we were the last ones in the group We hit the camp at 4pm But I did not see any blue canoes or people in that bad of shape, though it was quite crowded. For example I meet the geek in the morning with his yellow kayak life vest and helmet, but did not see him again until the lunch break on the second day at the car bridge toward the end.

The camp ground north of us had about six tents and Trenton accents so I assumed thee were the Mohawkers from Trenton

Hope to be on the water soon, were just passing the forked river schools flu around this month

-----Original Message-----
From: Leona [mailto: ]
Sent: Sunday, November 13, 2005 6:38 PM
To: Brian Londres (E-mail)
Subject: questions re. Halloween trip

Hi Brian,

I recall you thought there were about 10 Mohawkers on that Halloween that about the number? And they were in a corner of the campground?

Also, a Mohawker had near-hypothermia per an Outdoor member who said she saw a man - wet & with blue lips. He was a smoker & she put her space blanket around him. I wonder if this is the same person you pulled out of the water?


Kayaker is praised for river rescue

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Staff Writer

BORDENTOWN CITY - A kayaker rescued a city man in the Delaware River Friday after the exhausted man was swept away by the current, city police said.

William Ritter, 41, of Bordentown Township was kayaking with his wife Friday at 6:07 p.m. in the Delaware & Raritan Canal when he heard cries from the shore that a man was in distress nearby in the river, police said.

John Smith, 39, of Bordentown City had gone for a swim after drinking and was soon pulled out from the city's beach into the river, police said. The current was too strong for him to swim back so he grabbed a red channel marker.

Ritter dropped off his 2 1/2-year-old son Shane on the shoreline and paddled out to Smith, police said. Just before Ritter arrived, Smith lost his grip and was about to be pulled further out. Ritter got out of the kayak, put Smith into his life preserver and helped Smith into the kayak, police said.

Ritter swam back to shore, pulling his kayak with Smith in it, police said. Police arrived and helped Ritter and Smith ashore. Smith was limp with exhaustion and shaken, but conscious, police said.

Ritter said he was confident he would maintain control of his kayak. "I'm experienced on the river. I kind of grew up on it," said Ritter, who works as a civil engineer at the Shaw Group in Hamilton.

City Police Chief Matthew Simmons hailed Ritter as a hero, saying that he risked his own life to save Smith.

"If Mr. Ritter did not act quickly without hesitation to rescue Mr. Smith, we would be reading about a drowning victim, not a rescue," Simmons said in a statement.

Ritter said the praise was overdone.

"I just did what I had to do," he said. "I would hope that anyone else in my position would have done that too."

Simmons said the city commission would formally recognize Ritter's actions soon.

NOTE: Contact Andrew Kitchenman at or at (609) 989-5706.

© 2005 The Times of Trenton
© 2005 All Rights Reserved

Post Copy Editor Killed in Kayaking Accident
White-Water Enthusiast, 37, 'Died Doing What He Loved' on W.Va. River

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 25, 2005; Page B02

A copy editor for The Washington Post's sports section who wrote often for the newspaper about his experiences with rowing and kayaking died yesterday in a kayaking accident on the Tygart River in Marion County, W. Va.

John Francis Mullen, 37, of Arlington was with a friend in Valley Falls State Park when his kayak was sucked underwater for several minutes after going over a 10-foot waterfall, Deputy Kevin Alkire of the Marion County Sheriff's Department said. The friend pulled Mullen from the water and administered CPR but was unable to revive him. Mullen was pronounced dead at the scene, Alkire said.

John Mullen, competing in a white-water slalom event last year in Dickerson, was on a constant quest, his younger brother says. "He was my hero. He made my heart expand." (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
"Everybody said they were doing what they were supposed to be doing," said Alkire, adding that Mullen was wearing a life jacket and helmet and that the men were using a safety line. "It's just an unfortunate accident."

Mullen's friends and family described a quietly determined man with a rare ability to balance physical challenges with a life of the mind.

"He was a real spiritual guy, really well-read, and the gravitas and the importance of the river, and of nature, was something that was not lost on him at all," said Micah Pollack, an assistant sports editor at The Post who had kayaked with Mullen.

The tall, athletic-looking Mullen had spoken of some close calls in the five or six years since he had taken up the sport, said Pollack, adding that Mullen's love for it -- and for the tight community of paddlers he was part of -- overshadowed the dangers. Among other highlights, he competed in trials for the U.S. Olympic team for the 2004 Athens Games.

"It's totally trite and cliche, but he died doing what he loved," Pollack said.

Michael Wohl, who met Mullen 17 years ago when the two were college exchange students in Austria, recalled his friend's love for words and ideas. "His search for meaning was completely intertwined with his love for sports," he said.

Mullen -- known as "Jay" to his family -- grew up in the suburbs north of Boston. His parents live in Gilford, N.H.

Kurt Mullen described his elder brother as being on a "constant quest" that included a recent interest in surfing. The brothers were planning a surfing trip to Costa Rica.

"I was really excited because my brother and I had never taken a trip together as adults," he said, adding that while he himself wasn't as engrossed in sports, "I just wanted to be with my brother one time when he was doing something he loved."

The younger Mullen recalled being "a typical sullen 13-year-old" when his brother, then 17, implored him to find a passion, pressing books on him and eventually inspiring him to become a writer.

"He was my hero. He made my heart expand, and to think he lost his life today just . . . kills me," the brother said.

Steve Seeber, a kayaker who also had skied and mountain-biked with Mullen, described him as an experienced paddler who "ended up in the wrong place in the wrong position, which can happen pretty much anywhere."

John Mullen, competing in a white-water slalom event last year in Dickerson, was on a constant quest, his younger brother says. "He was my hero. He made my heart expand." (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
Alkire said that spot was particularly treacherous and that the part of the river has two steep waterfalls. Swimming is banned there and kayakers must sign a release form to enter, he said.

"It's a once- or twice-a-year thing there," he said of drownings in that location. "There is a lot of undertow, a lot of eddies, a lot of overhanging rocks underneath the water."

Alkire said that after going over the 10-foot waterfall, Mullen was pinned underwater for several minutes before going over a second, higher waterfall.

"You get under something like that and the current is holding you down," Alkire said. "It won't let you out until it's ready to let you out."

Mullen had worked full time as a copy editor at the Post since 2000 and part time since 1993. In a note yesterday to staff members, Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, described Mullen as "a respected editor" who was "very popular with his colleagues. . . . He will be sorely missed in the newsroom and by readers who shared his devotion to white water."

Friends and family members emphasized that Mullen was no daredevil and that he had a healthy respect for the river. Just last month, in a column, he recalled deciding against kayaking a dangerous-looking river in Colorado.

Still, the water called to him. In a column three years ago, he wrote of "my first look, and plunge, into a roaring hydraulic named Calamity," in a river in West Virginia.

"As I drifted, picking up speed and getting hit by cross-angling waves, I felt what I later realized was the sensation I had when as a boy I jumped a chain-link fence and climbed to the peak of a mammoth water tower, hanging from the outside on a straight-drop metal ladder, to get a night-time glimpse of faraway Boston. It was a hyperfocus energized by pulsing fear, but still you wanted more."

Riverboat vendor aims to stay afloat
Pa. doesn't relish hot dog man

Monday, July 04, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

From his floating concession stand on the Delaware River, the self-proclaimed "Famous River Hot Dog Man" has become an icon for tubers and canoers drifting lazily downstream on warm summer days.

But after 18 years selling snacks and drinks, former Marine Greg Crance is catching flak from officials on the Pennsylvania side of the river. They want to capsize his business, citing concerns about safety, garbage and noise.

Crance, 40, said he has no intention of going into dry dock and is prepared to fight any attempts to chase him from his prime location. He contends he's got all the permits from New Jersey he needs to stay in business and he drifts in a sovereign zone outside the reach of either state.

"I'll be damned if I leave here," Crance said. "They let me grow my business for 16 years, and now they want to take me off the same river that George Washington crossed for our freedom."

The first hints of resistance came from Tinicum Township about two years ago. Crance owns most ofa 10-acre island in the river that falls under township jurisdiction and officials objected to his series of signs advertising his hot dog stand.The island, which is within a federal floodway, is zoned for agricultural use only.

Crance, who once sold hot dogs from the island, took down most of his signs and abandoned dry land for the river.

"It is a beautiful area and people are very concerned about the scenic and recreational character of the river and also protecting it environmentally," saidLinda McNeill, manager of Tinicum Township.

"People are very protective of the Delaware River as a very valuable natural resource in the community," she said. "So they feel that their peace is disrupted with loud blaring music and a generator that's being run and bullhorns."

The gripes from the Pennsylvania shore also are coming from a handful of residents. They say Crance's business, which draws a crowd on sunny weekends, is noisy and disruptive.
On a recent Saturday, Crance sported a bright blue "Famous River Hot Dog Man" T-shirt that, at times, barely covered his belly. An affable man with sandy hair and bright blue eyes, Crance gladly acknowledges that his larger-than-life presence on the river is part of his charm.

With a captive market of 2,000 to 2,500 people floating down the river in tubes on an average weekend day and no serious competition from other snack sellers, there's money to be made forCrance, who sells his "special recipe" hot dogs for $4 apiece.

"A boat on the river selling food? You only see that in the movies," 15-year-old Dilena Dilan said with a grin as she paused at the snack stand during a tubing trip with her family.
Tubers make up the majority of Crance's customers, though he's a favorite stop for kayakers and canoers as well. Crance parks his hot dog stand strategically at the midpoint of the typical four-hour tubing route, right about the spot when stomachs start to rumble. He's there seven days a week, weather permitting, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. during peak summer days.

"You've got to eat something, and we were definitely ready," said Bill Tintle, of Stewartsville, who was tubing on the Delaware for the first time with relatives. "I didn't want to bring lunch with us. If people were eating on tubes, they'd probably throw their junk out on the river. So this works out fine."

Chris Janice, 13, also said he was really hungry by the time he got to Crance's stand, even though he'd eaten a good breakfast. He sat on a log on Crance's island with his father, Greg, both of Marlton, after he finished a hot dog, soda and frozen candy bar.

"We wouldn't be able to make it four hours without that, there's no way," Greg Janice said.
Crance, a father of four, assumed the "Famous River Hot Dog Man" persona when he was 21. He had just returned from four years of service as a lance corporal in theU.S. Marine Corps, which includeda stint in Okinawa, Japan, and was living with his parents in Bucks County, Pa.
Crance has had a business license for his floating snack stand from Kingwood Township, Hunterdon County, every year since 1992. And he passes annual inspections by the Hunterdon County Health Department.

Crance's operation consists of his custom-made riverboat, a relatively quiet craft that he uses to transport food from land to stand and also patrol for people who may be in danger on the water. His snack stand is a 22-foot-long pontoon boatcovered by a red-and-white-striped awning and adorned with an American flag.

Crance said he is willing to be flexible, and talk to township officials about a possible compromise.

"I respect their rights to their beliefs, but they don't own the river," he said. "The river is for everybody."

And Crance isn't afraid to take matters regarding his snack stand into the courts. Three years ago, he sued Bucks County River Country, a popular tubing business on the Pennsylvania side of the river. Crance lost the lawsuit, but River Country owner Dan Breen paid him 10 percent of what he was suing for -- $10,000 -- "so he would go away," Breen said.

Crance now has arelation ship with another tubing company -- Delaware River Tubing, a smaller business based in Kingwood Township. Customers get their tubes from the Frenchtown Roller Rink, and, for $17.95, they can purchase a tubing package that includes a meal from the Hot Dog Man.

Ever the entrepreneur, Crance on his Web site lists a few of his side businesses: a yacht trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands personally arranged by the Hot Dog Man; and franchises of the floating snack stand, not in the Delaware, but on other rivers.
Crance is the king of a tiny, floating fast-food empire, and he has no plans to abandon it anytime soon. He wants to retire as the "Famous River Hot Dog Man" someday, regardless of pressure from the Pennsylvania side of the river.

"I've got 32 years to go, period," Crance said. "They're going to have to come here with teams of wild Clydesdales to pull me out of here to make me leave."

Jennifer Weiss works in the Hunterdon County bureau. She may be reached at or (908) 782-8326.

© 2005 The Star Ledger
© 2005 All Rights Reserved.

Dam Repairs Force Reservoir to Close
Swinging Bridge Reservoir Not Open for Anything

By Nathan Mayberg
FORESTBURGH — The Swinging Bridge Reservoir Dam crew appears to have barely averted a total catastrophe three weeks ago when a sinkhole, estimated to be 30 feet wide and six feet deep, was discovered May 5.

The hole has since been filled in, according to officials with hydroelectric dam owner Mirant, an energy company.
Representatives of Mirant, their engineering firm, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and dozens of people filed into the Forestburgh Firehouse on Wednesday for an information-gathering session with the public, arranged by New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.

The reservoir itself is nine miles long and one mile wide. If the dam had collapsed, it would likely have taken down the Rio Reservoir Dam and Mongaup Falls Reservoir Dam with it, said Plant Manager Elliot Neri. If so, the residents of Port Jervis could have been devastated.

While company officials believe the dam is currently stable, they were quick to stress that “stable” does not mean “safe.” The company is drawing up plans to fully repair the dam before a June 2 meeting with FERC, where FERC officials will determine the adequacy of the plan.
In the meantime, Neri said local residents can forget about using the Swinging Bridge Reservoir for the rest of the summer. It will take at least 80 days for drilling to even begin, said Neri. Company officials could not estimate how much more they will have to lower the water level on the lake. They have already lowered it from its normal level of 1,068 feet above sea level to 1,047 feet above sea level.

Neri and Lee Davis, the vice president of Mirant New York, said that boating or any other use of the lake is prohibited due to safety concerns.

“Safety is our number one concern,” said Neri.

The massive sinkhole itself was the cause of several leaks in the penstock (a large pipe) and the diversion tunnel, according to the company’s engineer, Adam Jones. A day after the leaks were identified, the hole continued to grow by four inches, said Neri. He said the company will not know if the dam is safe until it conducts drilling. It was not clear how long the dam had been leaking.
The work will not affect the nearby Toronto Reservoir, which will likely lead to increased use of that lake. Bob Barrett, President of the Smallwood Civic Association, brought up that issue to the company officials. Neri pledged to improve the boat launch area and parking lot which accesses the reservoir via Town Road 62 within the next few weeks.

As for the public, a representative of the Sullivan County Federation of Sportsmen questioned what kind of impact the company’s work in the water would have on the local fish population. He contended that many of the fish would not be able to handle the change in temperature.
Town of Thompson Councilman Peppy Satenstein inquired about the company’s financial stability. The officials responded that they are emerging out of bankruptcy, but they intend to make the necessary repairs to the dam.

Mirant has a toll-free number for questions: 1-888-326-3889. Information from FERC can be obtained through their website,, or by calling them at 202-502-6734.

David B. Soete
Senior Resource Specialist
Upper Delaware Council
PO Box 192
Narrowsburg NY 12764
(845) 252-3022 (office)
(845) 252-3359 (fax)

Threat of flooding from dam closes Delaware River stretch

Saturday, May 07, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has closed its 40 miles of river in New Jersey and Pennsylvania due to a threat of flooding from a failing dam at a reservoir in upstate New York.

In recent days, cracks and a sinkhole appeared in the Swinging Bridge Dam in Forestburgh, Sullivan County, N.Y., authorities said.

As a result, river agencies in the Upper Delaware River Basin, which is the stretch of the Delaware northwest of New Jersey, have advised the Water Gap park downstream to close its portion of the river.

The Swinging Bridge reservoir has been drawing down its water to avoid a dam breach, but the situation is still considered to be an emergency, said Water Gap Park Ranger Phil Selleck.

"We're acting (to close the Water Gap recreation area) based on the fact that they haven't eliminated the emergency," Selleck said. "They're not saying it (a dam failure) is imminent, but that it's possible."

All access points in the Water Gap's section of the river have been closed to the public until at least 12 p.m. today, authorities said.

Along with rising and rapidly moving waters, a deluge from a dam breach would sweep debris into the river and increase the hazards for anyone boating or canoeing on it, authorities said. The Times Herald-Record newspaper in Middletown, N.Y., reported that if the 100-foot-high earthen dam did collapse, the flood would reach Port Jervis in about 90 minutes.

The Swinging Bridge reservoir holds 3 billion gallons of water, which would spill into the Mongaup River and threaten two other downstream dams before hitting the Delaware if a breach occurred, the Middletown newspaper reported.

The volume of the reservoir is about one-fifth the size of Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey's largest lake, which has some 15 billion gallons of water.

The National Weather Service also issued a flood watch yesterday for Sussex County because of the cracks and sinkhole found in the dam.

The Water Gap park has not yet fully recovered from a flood last month, which was said to be worse than the flooding last fall from Hurricane Ivan.

At the Water Gap, the Kittatinny Visitor Center off Route 80 remains closed from last month's flood, and the Depew swim beach, which was swept away, has not yet been restored. Trees and debris are still being cleared from the river and campsites are still being rehabilitating.

The situation with the Swinging Bridge dam was to be reassessed today, with the Water Gap closure to be either continued or lifted as necessary.

Jim Lockwood may be reached at or (973) 383-0516.

Drama in the Delaware: 3 rafters saved in harrowing night rescue



NEW HOPE, Pa. -- It started late Tuesday night as a tubing joyride for three area young men on the Delaware River in New Hope.
But the excursion quickly became a life-or-death situation after the trio screamed for help as they stood precariously on an island below the wing dam just south of the Lambertville-New Hope bridge.

"These three (men) thought it would be fun if they would tube down the Delaware River at night," said Fred Williamson, New Hope fire marshal. "That was an extremely dangerous thing to do."

Some friends of the men told them that it is a "cool" thing to do to float down the Delaware to Trenton, said Frank Cosner Jr., deputy chief of the Eagle Fire Company. So they blew up a small inflatable raft, got in and attempted the trip.

They got into trouble when the small raft became swamped with water, hit the wing dam and either overturned or knocked the occupants into the river, officials said New Hope police Chief Richard Pasqualini.

"In addition, the raft either had a hole in it before it went into the water or after it was put into the water, complicating things," Cosner said.

At about 10:25 p.m. Tuesday, someone heard the people screaming from the island and called 911.

Responding to the call were the New Hope Lambertville Rescue Squad, Lambertville Fire Department, Titusville Fire Company and the Eagle Fire Company whitewater rescue team, Cosner said.

A total of 54 volunteers responded to the scene, Cosner said. Also responding was the New Jersey State police helicopter to aid in the rescue with lights.

"When we have a marine rescue, we put two boats into the water. One boat is for the rescue and the other is for backup," Cosner said.

The whitewater rescue team's hovercraft engine failed at about 11:30 p.m. and it went over the wing dam, then floated downriver with rescue personnel in it.

"They guys in the boat were calmer than I was at the time," Cosner said.

At the same time the hovercraft's engine failed, the young men were plucked from the island and were on their way back to the safety of the shore, Cosner said. They were taken to the New Hope police station where the soggy trio were retrieved by their parents.

Rescued were Abramo Cocciarclli III, 19, and John J. Stone, III, 19, both of Yardville; and Justin Daugherty, 20, of Trenton, Pasqualini said.

"That was a stupid thing for them to do. They are lucky they walked away with their lives," Williamson said.

"A night river rescue, with the water as high as it was that night, put everyone in extreme jeopardy. That's not to mention the man hours put into the rescue and the numbers and money needed to deal with the issue. It doesn't get more stupid than that," Williamson said.

The completed rescue left the hovercraft and its crew still floating down the river. They were rescued in Titusville about an hour later. The boat had a faulty kill switch that was quickly fixed, Cosner said.

Criminal charges against the trio are being considered pending an investigation by the Bucks County district attorney's office, Pasqualini said.

Lumberton man drowns when kayak overturns

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Courier-Post Staff

A Lumberton man drowned Wednesday morning after his kayak overturned in Pemberton Lake, authorities said.

Two witnesses tried unsuccessfully to rescue Robert Bier, 61, of Poplar Court.

Bier's kayak overturned in the 20-acre lake off the Pemberton Bypass shortly after 11 a.m. Bier was not wearing a life jacket, authorities said.

A woman who answered the phone at Bier's residence said the family declined to comment.

A friend of Bier's, William Scull, witnessed the incident from shore, police said, and entered the lake. A passing motorist, Michael McCray, also tried to rescue Bier, police said. Neither could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Police and firefighters responded at 11:18 a.m. and used a boat to retrieve Bier's body. Emergency medical personnel performed CPR on Bier, but he was pronounced dead at Virtua-Memorial Hospital Burlington County in Mount Holly.

Although she did not know what type of kayak Bier was using or whether he was able to swim, Peggy Sooy, owner of Pine Barrens Canoe & Kayak Rental in Chatsworth, said a life jacket might have prevented the drowning.

"Its unfortunate," Sooy said. "Sometimes people underestimate the danger of water.

Some kayaks allow paddlers to sit on top, while others have them sitting deep inside, Sooy said. If someone is inside a kayak when it tips over, there are special maneuvers to right it.

Reach Jason Nark at (856) 486-2473 or

Man dies in lake boating accident

Thursday, April 14, 2005
Trenton Times.

PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP - A Lumberton man died yesterday morning shortly after being pulled unconscious from Lake Pemberton, where he fell out of a kayak, police said.

Robert Bier, 61, of Poplar Court, was seen in the lake near the overturned kayak at about 11:20 a.m., police said.

Two people tried to rescue Bier. First, Bier's friend William Scull, who was on the shore and saw Bier in distress, went into the water, police said. And then a passing motorist, identified by police only as Michael McCray, stopped and attempted to assist Scull.

Their efforts were unsuccessful, police said.

Two of the first two responding emergency officials, township Police Officer Edward White and Fire Chief Chad Bozoski of the Goodwill Fire Co., launched a boat and retrieved Bier's body.

The officers started CPR and rescue officials rushed Bier to Virtua Health-Memorial Hospital of Burlington County in Mount Holly, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

Bier was not wearing a life vest, police said.

Canoeist trapped in swollen creek, dies

Monday, November 29, 2004
The Express-Times

L. SAUCON TWP. -- A 46-year-old township woman died Sunday after a canoe capsized in Saucon Creek near Old Mill Road, police said.

Terri Cressman, of 1287 Spring Valley Road, died after she and her husband, Paul Cressman, got tangled up in debris in the fast-moving swollen stream and capsized following hours of rainfall.

Township police said late Sunday night that Terri Cressman became trapped underneath the canoe while her husband, Paul Cressman, was thrown clear.

The canoe went down in several feet of water near a small island about 50 feet from a back yard in the 1700 block of Old Mill Road.

About a dozen firefighters from three departments worked for more than 40 minutes to get the pair out of the creek. Firefighters used a rope to maneuver across the raging creek, then loaded both victims onto stretchers where they were taken to the waiting ambulances.

People at the scene said Terri Cressman was trapped under the canoe for many minutes.
In a late night news release, police said Paul Cressman attempted to free his wife but was unable to lift the canoe. After emergency personnel freed Terri Cressman, they put her in the back of an ambulance where a rescue worker could be seen giving her CPR. She was taken to St. Luke's Hospital in Fountain Hill where advanced life support was used to attempt to resuscitate her.

"Terri Cressman, after all efforts failed, was pronounced dead at St. Luke's Hospital," the news release stated.

Firefighters were treated after spending long periods of time in the frigid water, but no rescue worker was seriously injured, fire officials said.

Alan Wallace was in his home when he heard the couple's screams about 3:30 p.m. and called 911. When he ran through his back yard toward the creek he could see the man standing on the island but did not see the woman.

Wallace said he has not seen many people boating on the creek since he moved into his home about a year and a half ago. He said the normally tranquil creek was swollen because of heavy rains earlier in the day.

"This is probably 20 feet (wider) than normal," he said.

Officials did not know the water temperature. Firefighters said people should not canoe or use boats on swollen waterways because it increases the chances that a boat or canoe could be knocked over.

Firefighters from Leithsville, Steel City, Southeastern and Se-wy-co responded along with Pennsylvania Water Rescue. Township emergency medical technicians also responded.
( Express-Times photographer Sue Beyer contributed to this report.

Reporter Russ Flanagan can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at

Woman dies after canoe accident
Lower Saucon couple capsized on Saucon Creek. Husband lives.

By Nick Politi
Of The Morning Call

A husband and wife canoeing Sunday afternoon on Saucon Creek in Lower Saucon Township were trapped in the creek's rain-swollen waters when their boat overturned.

The husband was pulled out alive, but his wife, who was brought to shore, taken to St. Luke's Hospital, Fountain Hill, and put on advanced life support, later died, township police said.

Police identified her as Terri Cressman, 46. Police identified her husband as Paul Cressman, 50, of 1287 Spring Valley Road.

Police did not say where the couple entered the creek or how long they had been in the canoe before it capsized.

Paul Cressman was heard crying for help in the creek behind the 1700 block of Old Mill Road as the turbulent, chest-deep current pinned him in place, according to people who were out walking in the area.

The man cried out that his wife was under the overturned canoe and he was unable to free her, one of the walkers, who asked to remain anonymous, said. The walker said the man cried out that his foot was caught in debris on the creek bed.

Alan Wallace, whose house stands on a hill above the creek, was alerted to the accident when he went to see why his dog had begun to bark. Wallace said he called 911, and police and rescue personnel arrived within minutes.

One neighborhood resident said he waded into the creek while holding onto tree limbs, but the swiftness and depth of the current turned him back. The man said the water did not feel frigid.

Rescuers using ropes worked for an hour, first extricating Paul Cressman and then Terri Cressman. Paul Cressman appeared conscious when he was brought to the creek bank and taken by ambulance to St. Luke's Hospital, Fountain Hill. A nursing supervisor said he was in fair condition Sunday night.

Wallace said the creek had risen about as high Sunday as it had after the remnants of Hurricane Ivan drenched the Lehigh Valley in September.

On Sunday the creek stretched about 80 yards wide.

Rescuers were hampered not only by the strength of the current but also the abundant underbrush, limbs, tree trunks and vines along the bank and on land mounds in the creek.

About a dozen rescuers appeared exhausted after at least an hour of work.

Neighbors said on occasion throughout the year they see people on the creek in kayaks, rowboats and tubes.

Boaters rescued at Lambertville

Monday, July 28, 2003

LAMBERTVILLE - Five people were pulled from the water yesterday after their kayak and an inflatable raft it was pulling capsized while going through a wing dam on the Delaware River, rescuers said. 

Two 48-year-old men, a 45-year-old woman and a 17-year-old girl, all from Brielle, and a 47-year-old woman were dumped into the water about 12:30 p.m., said Edward Skillman, a spokesman for Lambertville New Hope Ambulance and Rescue Squad. 

Other kayakers assisted the victims - all of which were wearing life preservers, Skillman said. They were floating in the water and against rocks when rescuers arrived, Skillman said. 

They were picked up by an airboat and other rescue boats. The 17-year-old was "shaken up," but no one suffered serious injuries, Skillman said. 

The kayak could not be retrieved from the river, Skillman said. 

Also responding to the scene was the Titusville Fire Co.

Canoeist drowned at Shohola Rapids


BARRYVILLE, NY — Police say 51-year-old Richard Dilaurenzio struck his head on a rock after spilling his canoe in the Delaware River rapids below the confluence of Shohola Brook on July 4. Dilaurenzio died in the accident.

Michael Traver’s family cabin sits on the New York shore opposite the rapids where the accident took place around 11:00 a.m. Traver said he heard a woman (Dilaurenzio’s wife Carol) on the opposite shore screaming and pointing at a man in the water. 

“He didn’t have a lifejacket on and he was face down, floating downstream,” Traver said.

Traver reported the incident, prompting a response from Lumberland, Yulan, Highland Lake, Shohola and Sparrowbush firefighters, many of them in dress uniforms having just finished marching in Glen Spey’s morning parade.

The National Park Service (NPS) launched an immediate water search and rescue efforts were centered from the NPS office on Handsome Eddy, about a mile south of the accident. Sightings were reported upstream and down as searchers scoured the area. Dilaurenzio was recovered upstream at the beach at the end of Shohola’s Happy Hollow Road, where unsuccessful resuscitation efforts took place.

The victim’s body was taken downstream to the NPS office where Sullivan County Coroner Tom Warren made the death pronouncement shortly after 1:00 p.m.

Carol Dilaurenzio was not injured.

Dilaurenzio was the second Upper Delaware drowning victim this season. Seventeen-year-old Obinna Okoro was drowned in a June 2 incident near Mongaup, when his commercial raft overturned in high water.

According to the NPS, 43 river drownings have occurred since the agency began managing the Upper Delaware in 1980. None of those victims were using lifejackets at the time of their accidents.

Dangerous waters

The mid-Hudson/Catskills region has been the scene of several boating fatalities and injuries in the past decade. Some of these include:

July 4, 2003: A 51-year-old canoeist on the Delaware River drowned near Barryville after his canoe flipped over. Also, two boaters were injured in an accident on the Hudson River north of the Marlboro Yacht Club.

June 18, 2003: John Lamont Myrick, 22, of Kingston, drowned after his boat capsized while he was fishing at an old sand and gravel quarry off Hurley Mountain Road in Ulster County.

June 1, 2003: New Jersey high school student Obinna Okoro, 17, drowned in the Delaware River while on a rafting trip with his school. Officials said the teen had removed his life jacket.

September 2002: Vladimir Azrieli, 64, of Queens, drowned while fishing at Shandelee Lake.

Summer 2002: A fisherman, a swimmer and a 7-year-old boy drowned in the Delaware; a tube-rider, a farmworker and a kayaker drowned in the Esopus and another kayaker drowned in Rondout Creek.

July 7, 2001: Two boats carrying a total of eight people collided in the dark on Greenwood Lake; 37-year-old Steve Scholl of Mahwah, N.J., and 44-year-old Richard Maiola of Greenwood Lake were killed by the impact; 33-year-old Diana Walling and 29-year-old Michael "Chris" Linekin, both of Greenwood Lake, drowned. Authorities said speed and darkness were factors in the crash.

August 2000: Wayne Edell, a 55-year-old Greenwood Lake man, was killed on the lake when his motorboat backed over him while he was in the water.

1999: Five people drowned in the Delaware River.

June 1997: Ruth Chiat, a 21-year-old Brooklyn college student out on a first date, was killed when another boat rammed the boat she was on in Greenwood Lake.

July 5, 1996: Fisherman David H. Banuat Jr., 53, of Slate Hill, drowned in the Rio Reservoir after the boat he's in flips. Authorities said none of the three men on board was wearing a life jacket.

July 18, 1993: Twenty-four-year-old Diane Denny drowned after she was thrown from a boat in Greenwood Lake. Police said alcohol might have been a factor.

Father to sue over student's drowning

The Associated Press
6/25/2003, 9:51 p.m. ET

UNION, N.J. (AP) — The father of a 17-year-old high school student who drowned while on a class trip plans to sue the Union School District, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported.

Obinna Okoro, 17, drowned June 3 while on a school-sponsored rafting trip on the Delaware River near Butler's Rift, just below Mongaup, N.Y.

The district is to blame for negligence, said Westfield Attorney Vincent Jesuele, who filed the notice.

The boy's father, Patrick Okoro, plans to sue Union School District, Superintendent Theodore Jakubowski, Principal Samuel Fortunato and nine district employees who arranged or authorized the trip.

James Damato, a lawyer for the school district, said school officials did nothing wrong and will fight the claim of negligence. The district plans to turn the case over to its insurance company, he said.

The rafting trip had been routine in the district for the last five years with no mishaps, school officials have said.

Okoro, a Nigerian immigrant, came to the United States with his father and two brothers less than three years ago.

Accidents claim kayaker and swimmer 

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff 

Water-related recreation proved deadly for two New Jersey residents this past weekend, when a kayaker from Middlesex County and a swimmer from Bergen County took advantage of a break in the rainy weather. 

In the swollen, muddy waters of the Raritan River, a kayaker who was attempting a 15-mile trek from Bedminster to South Bound Brook on Sunday never made it to his destination. 

Dive teams, rescuers and the State Police recovered the body of Brian Tomsa, 37, at 2:15 a.m. yesterday near the Nevius Street Bridge, which connects Raritan Borough and Hillsborough Township. Tomsa's wife, Lisa, had reported him missing shortly before midnight when he didn't return to their Middlesex Borough home. 

According to officials, Tomsa's 15-foot-long red kayak was found partially submerged in the river near the train bridge across the county line in New Brunswick. His life jacket was found north of the body on the banks of the river, said Somerset County Prosecutor Wayne Forrest. 

"This is a terrible loss," said George Emre, who lives across the street from the Tomsas. "He was a good man, a family man, a hard- working man." 

Lisa Tomsa and her husband drove to South Bound Brook Sunday morning, where they dropped off Brian Tomsa's truck for him to pick up later. She then drove him to the North Branch of the Raritan River, near Route 202 and River Road in Bedminster, where, at 10:30 a.m., he started his trip downstream. 

Pete Pedner, who has been running Clinton Canoe and Kayak for 17 years, said that it was "insanity" to go out on the river yesterday. 

"They think it's exciting when the river is like this," Pedner said. "In the river, rain is your No. 1 enemy." 

According to Pedner, high water levels from rainfall bring in debris such as logs and dead wood that can create hazardous conditions. It is harder for kayakers, no matter the experience level, to react fast enough to a block in the water, he said. 

Like Pedner, Steven Androsko, owner of the Griggstown Canoe and Kayak rental in Franklin Township, recognized the dangerous conditions and refused to rent equipment to patrons this past weekend. 

"Even though it's hurting business, I haven't rented out the equipment," Androsko said. "It's just not safe when it's been raining and the river is flooding." 

Though water levels in the Raritan River did not exceed flood stage on Sunday, the water level, which is usually 4 feet high in the Manville area, was double at 8 feet as of 11 a.m. 

"Obviously the river was running high this weekend," said Somerset County principal hydraulic engineer Carl Andreassen. "That does make it more dangerous." 

Lisa Tomsa declined to talk about her husband's death when approached at their two-family house on the corner of Union Avenue and Stout Street. Rolls of roofing material and roof shingles were piled on the front walkway, waiting to be installed. 

"He was replacing the roof himself," said neighbor Liz King, who has known the Tomsas for about 10 years. "He was a hard worker. Everything he did around the house, he did himself." 

According to King, the Tomsas had two daughters, ages 5 and 1. She said Tomsa also had a 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. 

"He was a nice guy, quiet. You had to reach out to talk to him, but when you did he was funny," King said. 

Jeff Tittel, New Jersey chapter director of the Sierra Club, emphasized that people don't realize how much rainfall can affect river conditions. 

"It makes sense to stay out of the water at a time like (Sunday)," he said. "People can pretend like the Raritan's turned into the Colorado River during flooding, but only expert guides can navigate it." 

The second victim, 20-year-old Christopher Beck of Garfield, drowned in Lake George in upstate New York on Sunday evening as he and a companion tried to swim from one island to another less than 50 yards away, according to police. 

Beck was with a group of five people camping on an island near the southern end of the Adirondack lake, said senior investigator Thomas Aiken of the New York State Police. He got about halfway to the second island before he began to yell for help. 

Teen's body pulled from Delaware 

By Jessica Gardner
Times Herald-Record 

Westfall Township, Pa – Searchers recovered the body of a New Jersey teen yesterday, about six miles from where he fell into the Delaware River during a school rafting trip 10 days ago.

The body of Obinna Okoro, a 17-year-old high school senior from Union, N.J., was spotted about 3 p.m. yesterday, floating in the river on the Pennsylvania side, behind Kmart in Westfall Township. The discovery brought an end to an exhaustive search that included a half- dozen agencies.

Obinna, who was going to graduate on June 20, was one of more than 50 kids from Union High School who participated in an annual rafting outing on June 1.

No one answered calls to the Okoro household last night.

His father, Patrick Okoro, said last week that he never gave his son permission to go on the trip. It was too dangerous, he said, and refused to sign the school's permission slip.

Somehow, though, his son went anyway. School officials told Okoro, a pharmacist for a New Jersey hospital, that they'd received a signed paper from Obinna. The boy's father said last week it wasn't his signature.

Obinna, a native of Nigeria, was one of four teens who were thrown into the river after the raft they were floating in hit rapids in the area of the Hawk's Nest in Sparrowbush, N.Y. Three made it to shore. Obinna disappeared.

Authorities said none of the teens was wearing the life jackets they'd been issued.

"I told him, 'You are from Africa; you don't know how to swim,'" Okoro recalled last week. "I said, 'The Americans will swim to the shore and you will drown,' and that's exactly what happened."

Rescue personnel from Sparrowbush and Westfall Township fire departments started yesterday's search just two hours before getting word that someone in a canoe had spotted what he thought may have been a body. Less than an hour later, Obinna was pulled from the river.

"This is just such a relief," Sean Heater, the Westfall fire chief, said later. "It will offer the family some closure."

"We always try to recover the body as quickly as possible," said Jack Flynn, first assistant chief for Sparrowbush Fire Department. "It's bad enough as it is, but to have it drag on is terrible."

Union teen feared drowned

Published in the Home News Tribune 6/04/03


UNION COUNTY: Seventeen-year-old Obinna Okoro of Union Township paid for a tuxedo and scheduled a limousine to pick him up or his senior prom this Friday, his father said.

But the Union High School senior who emigrated from Nigeria to the United States 2 1/2 years ago overturned in a raft Monday in the Delaware River while on a school trip.

Those searching for his body in Sparrowbush, N.Y., about 60 miles northwest of New York City, have found nothing, his father, Patrick Okoro, said yesterday.

"It's killing me," said Okoro, who works as a pharmacist at Rahway Hospital. "It's killing me."

Okoro said students on the trip told him his son -- who was scheduled to graduate June 20 -- took off his life vest during the raft trip because of the heat Monday afternoon.

Okoro argued with Obinna over the class trip and refused to sign a consent form allowing him to go, he said.

"I did not authorize this trip," Okoro said. "I told him he's not going. Maybe he signed (the consent form) by himself. I told him, 'You're not going, over my dead body.' I told him the boat will flip over. 'You cannot swim like people here, you can't make it.' And that's exactly what happened."

District officials could not be reached last night. Okoro said he has not yet told his wife, still in Nigeria, of the accident. Okoro has two other sons, 19 and 16, with him in Union. Neither wished to comment on Obinna or the accident, he said. Okoro spoke of Obinna as an outgoing boy who loved computers, dancing and basketball.

"His sign was Leo -- he has a lot of friends. He was very mixable," Okoro said.

Obinna hoped to someday become a lawyer, Okoro said. He was preparing to take classes at Essex County College in Newark. Obinna and four others were riding in the raft that capsized. Area fire departments, New York state police and National Park Service officials searched the river with rescue boats and a state police helicopter until late Monday afternoon. Authorities were still searching for Okoro as of 3:30 p.m. yesterday.

Okoro received word about his son at 2 p.m. Monday, he said. According to the National Park Service Web site, rapids on the Delaware River are usually considered Class I, or easy. But the river can rise quickly after rain, and the river was about 6 feet high Monday, which can produce intermediate or advanced rapids.

Park service officials contacted all companies licensed to rent boats on the river Sunday and advised caution because of rising water, officials said. Ken Serrano: (732) 565-7212; Contributing: The Associated Press

Wild Delaware demands respect, authorities say

By Greg Cannon
Times Herald-Record

Pond Eddy – Judy Camacho pulled the shade from the window in her apartment above Nolan's River Inn here Monday morning and looked out at the Delaware River raging across Route 97.

It's her first season working the office of Whitewater Willie's canoe rental next door. But even a newcomer could tell that the water was running unusually high and fast.

"I called my boyfriend over and said, 'Look, this river it's going by crazy fast,'" Camacho said yesterday.

As she spoke, a flotilla of rafts sped past. It was from Kittatinny Canoes, the oldest and biggest operator on the river. The company hosted a similar group that floated by this spot a day earlier.

Just south of here, authorities say, 17-year-old Obinna Okoro fell out when his boat hit some rapids. He's still missing.

"To think that some mother sent her son out for a nice day on the river and he's not coming back," Camacho said. "It's heart wrenching."

But not unheard of. Hardly a season goes by without a tragedy or two that results from someone in search of a good time.

Earl Garrity spent 26 years as a diver with the Port Jervis Fire Department. In that time, he said, he pulled a lot of bodies out of the Delaware.

He described a river full of eddies and rifts, quick-change rapids and a deceptive river bottom that can look four feet away when it's really 40. "It's a funny river," Garrity said. 

The Delaware is wild. Who decides when it's too wild? The park service tracks the river's height and speed and advises companies accordingly.

But each company decides for itself if it will put its boats in the water on any given day. To get in or walk away, that's the boaters' call. For kids, the decision falls to a guardian.

The 26 companies licensed by the National Park Service to rent boats on this stretch of river market the Delaware as a fun time accessible to all.

Lisa Hughes, Kittatinny's general manager, said the accident was unfortunate, but stacked it up against the tens of thousands of boaters the company sends safely down the river every season.

The company drills clients on river conditions and safety, she said, but, "Once they're out on the river, there's only so much we can do."

Kittatinny's Web site says, "Rafting on the Delaware River is made for novices and families, no experience is necessary." 

Mostly, the river obliges. The teens out yesterday shrieked with fear and delight as their boats shot through some rapids.

The river as nature's amusement park is often at odds with the real river, locals say.

The Delaware is wild, the longest free-flowing river in the Northeast. "Respect the river," advises a park service poster.

After a heavy rain like the one that fell last weekend, the river can rise rapidly. It doubled in height Sunday, running at about 6½ feet when Okoro's group set off. That's considered high, but manageable for rafts.

The kids on the river yesterday didn't seem to know about the tragic trip that preceded them. 

"What are you looking for?" one girl shouted as her raft passed a park service boat scouring the west bank of the river below the Hawk's Nest in search of the missing boy.

Along the river in Westfall, Pa., yesterday, another group of students from another New Jersey high school were drying off after their Kittatinny trip.

A man serving as a chaperone said he hadn't heard about the accident. It was the first time most of his students had been rafting, he said. "I felt pretty comfortable taking them out there."

'I never signed the permission slip'

By Jessica Gardner
Times Herald-Record
June 04, 2003 

Patrick Okoro didn't want his 17-year-old son, Obinna, to go on a school rafting trip planned for Monday on the Delaware River. He refused to sign the permission slip, telling Obinna it was just too dangerous.

"I told him, 'Over my dead body are you going on this trip.' I said, 'You're going to drown,' " Okoro said. Now Okoro, of Union, N.J., is waiting for rescuers to find his son, who has been missing since falling off a raft Monday while floating down the Delaware near Sparrowbush.

Obinna Okoro, who was scheduled to graduate on June 20, found a way around his father's order. It probably cost him his life. "I think he's done and it's killing me," Okoro said when called at his New Jersey home yesterday. "I don't know how to function anymore."

Authorities were still searching for Obinna yesterday evening, using divers, boats and a state police helicopter outfitted with an infrared radar capable of detecting body heat. So far, there's been no sign of the boy.

Obinna set out on the river from Barryville, N.Y., on a class trip from Union High School in New Jersey. Lisa Hughes, general manager of Kittatinny Canoes, which rented the rafts to the students, said one of the teachers chaperoning the trip told her the raft that Obinna and three other teens were on never actually flipped over.

"According to the teacher's account, the kids were lying down in the boat and they popped out when they hit a rapid," Hughes said.

Only three of the four teens made it back to the raft. Obinna disappeared. Authorities said the teens were not wearing the life jackets they'd been given.

Patrick Okoro contends that his son never should have been out there in the first place.

"I never signed the permission slip," Okoro said. "I've got it here in my hand."

Okoro said that after reading the permission slip, which included warnings about possible injury, illness or death, he said no way. Obinna argued, but his father wouldn't bend.

But somehow, Obinna went on the trip anyway. The Union school superintendent, Theodore Jakubowski, wouldn't say specifically whether the school had received a signed permission slip from Obinna. He did say, however, that no one goes on a field trip without parental permission.

This is the fifth year the school has held the rafting trip. Seven teachers supervised 53 teens on the trip, Jakubowski said.

Okoro said the school's principal, Samuel Fortunato, told him he had received a signed permission slip from Obinna. Okoro said it wasn't his signature.

Fortunato declined to comment, referring all questions to Jakubowski. Obinna, a native of Nigeria who has been in the United States for more than two years, lives with his father and two teenage brothers. He was planning to attend his senior prom this Friday.

"He already paid for everything: the prom, the limo and the tux," Okoro said. "He had a date. I've got the receipt for the corsage in my hand."

Wrath of the river 17-year-old boy was
missing yesterday at Sparrowbush

June 03, 2003

   By Greg Cannon and Jessica Gardner
Times Herald-Record , 
   Sparrowbush – A 17-year-old boy was missing yesterday after the raft he was riding in flipped over on a high and fast-running Delaware River.

   According to police communications, the teen was on the river as part of a group trip from a New Jersey high school. As of last night, authorities had not released his name or where he's from.

   Several area fire departments sent rescue boats and divers to the stretch of river between Pond Eddy and Sparrowbush at about 2:15 p.m. to help the National Park Service with the search.
  With the water running high and rough, authorities decided against sending in divers.
  "It is too risky to put the divers in the water," said Scott Glynn, assistant chief of the Sparrowbush Fire Department. Glynn said the boy was one of five teens riding in the raft when it flipped over.

   The raft capsized in the Butler's Rift rapids in the Hawk's Nest section.

   According to the park service Web site, rapids on the Delaware are considered Class I, or easy, at average river heights. But the river was running over 6 feet yesterday. At that height, Class II and III rapids can emerge, creating intermediate and advanced challenges.
  The Web site also warns that the river can rise quickly after a rain. River heights were between 3 and 4 feet for about a week before doubling Sunday to almost 7 feet.

   At that height, the park service warns that high boating skills are needed. Less skilled boaters should only go out in rafts.

   In fact, the risky conditions resulted in a warning to boat rental companies.

   On Sunday night, the park service called all companies licensed to rent boats on the river, according to Sandra Schultz, assistant superintendent of the park service's Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, which manages that stretch of river. The service warned that the river was expected to crest over six feet and advised them to use caution, Schultz said.

   "The river's extremely high and it's extremely fast," said Kelly Leavenworth, who works at Whitewater Willie's canoe rental in Pond Eddy.

   The outfit didn't send any boaters out yesterday because of conditions on the river. "I think it's a little too rough out there," she said.

   The raft the boy was riding in was rented from Kittatinny Canoes of Dingmans Ferry, Pa., which bills itself as "the first and finest" outfitter for Delaware boat trips.

   A worker who answered a call to Kittatinny yesterday said, "no comment," before hanging up the phone.

   The other four passengers in the raft were sequestered on a Kittatinny Canoes bus in the parking lot of the Sparrowbush Post Office yesterday afternoon as rescuers searched for their boat mate. Authorities would not allow a reporter to talk to them.

   The search continued into the late afternoon as a state police helicopter made slow passes over the river.

   Shortly after the search began, rescue workers plucked two other boaters from the river. The pair, who were not affiliated with the missing teen, had been in a canoe that flipped over in the rapids near Beach 2.

   "We've taken this trip for the past four years at the same time and something like this has never happened before," said Robert Flowers, one of the two in the overturned canoe. "It got rough and we got turned around and that was it."

New Jersey News Sunday, August 11, 2002, Latest river victim from South America, Why?

From staff reports

PHILLIPSBURG -- The man who drowned Sunday night, August 11, 2002 in the Delaware River was identified Monday as Ramos Santiago.

Santiago, 38, is a native of Colombia, South America, according to Warren County Medical Examiner Isidore Mihalakis. Mihalakis said he conducted an autopsy early Monday. He said there was nothing unusual about the death, such as the presence of drugs or alcohol.

Phillipsburg police said they do not know why Santiago was in the Phillipsburg area. An investigation into the incident is ongoing, police said. Police said they're still attempting to contact Santiago's relatives in South America.

Pennsylvania News River claims eighth victim since early June

Group tries to swim across; three friends make it, but the fourth doesn't. Sunday, August 11, 2002


The Express-Times

PHILLIPSBURG -- In what has been a summer of swimming tragedies, yet another person died Sunday afternoon in the Delaware River, town police said. Police did not release the man's name because authorities could not reach his relatives.

He was the eighth person to die this year in the stretch of river that separates the Lehigh Valley from northwest New Jersey. Warren County Medical Examiner Isidore Mihalakis said an autopsy is expected today.

Witnesses said the male victim was swimming with four friends early Sunday afternoon about a half-mile north of the Interstate 78 overpass in a remote area near the Easton sewer treatment plant. The man and three friends -- the fourth didn't swim -- attempted to cross the 100-yard width of the Delaware. The man never made it, his friends told police.

Rescuers were alerted by the friends who had made their way to a home near Howard and McKeen streets in Phillipsburg, rescuers said. Rescue personnel from the Easton and Phillipsburg fire departments and Garden State Underwater Recovery searched for the body for about two hours in the murky 8 to 15 feet of water. The Easton Fire Department eventually recovered 
the body.

Rescue divers combed a quarter-mile bend in the river throwing yellow buoys to mark search areas. One of the man's companions sat and watched rescuers as they searched.

Witnesses said at one point Phillipsburg police officers commandeered kayaks from people nearby. Police were also assisted by boaters near the scene. The Phillipsburg Police Department and the Warren County Medical Examiner's Office are investigating.

As temperatures have flirted with and surpassed 90 degrees, many people have challenged the river's tricky currents and deceptive distances, and seven other people have not made it out alive.

Luis Alberto Vargas, 39, of Berkeley Heights, N.J., was found Aug. 4 at the bottom of the river near a popular swimming hole north of Raubs Island. George and Howard Ariars, brothers from Astoria, N.Y., died July 27 when their inflatable raft capsized near Reliant Energy's power plant in Portland.

On July 4, Otoniel Villanueva of Rahway, N.J., drowned at the Delaware Water Gap, and Julio Garcia of Trenton drowned while wading near the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park in Hunterdon County. On July 1, Fred M. Irwin, 77, of Upper Mount Bethel Township died while canoeing in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, officials said. Irwin was boating with his son and grandsons when their canoe capsized. He died there, police said.

Donald Teets of Palmer Township drowned near the Northampton Street bridge between Easton and Phillipsburg after he fell out of his boat while fishing June 3.

SHANDAKEN - A 49-year-old New York City man drowned while kayaking in the Esopus Creek on Saturday.

Police said he became entangled in a tree alongside the stream and went under.

Lawrence Kirwin's death was almost identical - in both location and circumstance - to the June 10 drowning of a Brooklyn girl, and it was the second drowning in less than 24 hours in the Esopus. A farm worker drowned Friday afternoon while fishing and swimming in the creek in the town of Hurley.

Shandaken police said Kirwin was kayaking with a group of friends from the Appalachian Mountain Club when, at about 11:10 a.m., he became entangled in a tree growing over the creek as the group rounded a bend near Wettje Road. Kirwin's friends were able to pull the kayak free, but Kirwin, who had fallen out, remained pinned underwater, police said.

Kirwin's friends got him out of the water after about 10 minutes and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation until emergency workers arrived, police said. Kirwin was taken to Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, where he was pronounced dead at 12:12 p.m.

Police said the water was moving fast on Saturday at the accident site.

On Friday, 22-year-old Juan Lopez, a seasonal worker at the Robert O. Davenport and Sons Farm, drowned after losing his footing in the creek while fishing and swimming with a cousin in Hurley.

The cousin and other farm workers tried in vain to pull Lopez from the water after the 2 p.m. accident. By the time police divers reached the Florida resident, around 4:30 p.m., it was too late. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Saturday's drowning happened at almost the same spot where 17-year-old Nicole Coppolino of Brooklyn died while tubing on the Esopus. She, too, became entangled in trees and got trapped underwater. She was submerged for about 30 minutes before being pulled out and died later at Albany Medical Center.

Shandaken police were assisted on Saturday by the Ulster County Sheriff's Office, the Shandaken Ambulance squad and Phoenicia firefighters. 

High water level forces closure of long stretch of the Delaware

Saturday, June 08, 2002, BY KATIE WANG, Star-Ledger Staff

The National Park Service shut down a 40-mile stretch of the Delaware River yesterday after the water level rose to 11 feet above normal, capsizing two canoes carrying five people.

No one was injured in the canoe accident, but officials said they wanted to close the river within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area after watching it jump from its normal level of 6 feet to 11 feet in 24 hours. A portion of the tributary in Montague, Sussex County, was expected to crest at 11.7 feet overnight before receding to normal levels.

Officials intend to reopen the river to water recreation this morning. "The reason for the closure is the river has been rising pretty fast because of the heavy rains," said Bill Halainen, spokesman for the National Park Service. "When it gets near 12 feet, it gets hazardous."

Officials also were worried about surfacing debris, the water temperature and fast-moving currents. The water temperature was 58 degrees, considered colder than usual, and flowing at 5 mph, faster than the normal 3 mph, when park officials closed the river around 1 p.m.

But it was the breadth of the rising water level that forced National Park officials to shut down the river, even though it was expected to crest well below the flood stage of 25 feet.

A line of thunderstorms dumped between 1 to 2 inches of rain in the area Thursday night, which meteorologists say is a lot in 24 hours and can cause rivers to crest at alarming levels. It usually takes about one day for a heavy downpour to have an impact on water levels.

"Larger rivers such as the Lehigh and Delaware have a lag time because the runoff has a while to go from the smaller streams into the larger rivers," said Jim Poirier, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

The last significant crest at Montague was on Dec. 2, 1996, when the river reached 18 feet above normal. Other portions of the river in Belvidere and Trenton also are expected to crest at 10 feet and 12.5 feet respectively today.

Halainen said he can't remember the last time park officials closed the river in the park area, but said it is rarely done. Authorities yesterday closed and barricaded seven boat ramps after canoers got out of the water. Thursday's storm also knocked a large number of trees and branches into the river, which are hazardous to canoers. A canoe carrying an adult and two young children capsized yesterday afternoon after it hit a branch. The three people were able to hang onto a tree while they waited to be rescued. Two people in another canoe tried to rescue the trio, but their canoe also capsized. National Park rangers came to the rescue within 10 minutes, said Halainen. The accident occurred near the Pennsylvania shoreline of the river.

The crest comes as the state is struggling to break free from one of the worst droughts in its history. A damp spring helped compensate for a dry winter, which plunged the state's 13 northern reservoirs to dangerously low levels. As of Thursday, the state's reservoirs were at 86 percent capacity, inching closer to its normal capacity of 95 percent for this time of year. Katie Wang covers Warren County. She can be reached at or (908) 478-0100.

Water safety is learning to love your life vest


RIVER VALLEY- Suzanne Williams and her boyfriend, Joseph O'Leary, went out for a canoe trip on the Delaware on Monday, June 4. Only one came back alive.

Both were inexperienced canoeists, and some troubling waters among the Staircase Rapids, below Pond Eddy, capsized their canoe. Even more troubling, however, is that the pair had life vests in the boat but were not wearing them, according to Orange County coroner Donald Parker. As the rapids approached, the two tried to pull them on, but it was too late. O'Leary was a strong enough swimmer to keep himself and the canoe afloat. Unfortunately, Williams was not.

According to Parker, O'Leary thought Williams was holding onto the canoe as he pulled it toward shore but she was, in fact, struggling in the water. Despite later efforts by National Park Service (NPS) Ranger Vince Preago to revive her, Williams drowned.

The couple rented the canoe from Landers River Trips boat rentals in Narrowsburg. General Manager Eric Orr said he has all his customers put on the life vests before they leave and both Williams and O'Leary were wearing life vests when they left. They simply took them off. Orr said, "We have a safety checklist and a trained staff to go over safety rules with the customers." Orr also said that his staff is available to accompany customers on river trips by request. In William's case, "Wearing a life vest would have changed the circumstances."

While Orr said some of the general public is aware of water safety, "There is always room for improvement. The information needs to get to the people boating."

Orr suggested more safety information in commercials about canoeing or boating at rental places. According to Parker, a commercial for canoeing on the Delaware inspired Williams and O'Leary to take the river trip. Orr said, "We want people to have fun safely."

NPS Ranger Cliff Daniels is always trying to enforce water safety in his jurisdiction. "We have several means and avenues. We educate visitors and we also go out and make contact if we notice potential violations." Unfortunately, those over 14 are not required to wear life vests, although they must be present in the boat. Those under 14 face a $50 fine if riding without a 
life vest on.

According to Daniels, the general public is not aware of water safety. "Because they come to enjoy themselves, they are not aware of their surroundings or environment. People have to take responsibility for their actions... A lot of people still think, 'it's not gonna happen to me.'"

A list distributed by Landers River Trips identifies the following safety tips: watch out for potential river hazards such as sudden drop offs, swift currents, eel weirs, trees and branches; bring adequate water; don't drink out of the river; wear sun screen and shoes; abstain from drinking alchohol; and always wear a life vest.

Additional tips from the Red Cross are: If you have been capsized, float with your arms over your head. This will allow your arms to come in contact with things first, protecting your head or neck from injury. In general, jump feet first rather than dive to avoid shallow water accidents and hidden rocks. When floating downstream, float feet first.

Wearing, or not wearing, a life vest is a leading cause of water accidents. Authorities agree that, had Williams been wearing her life vest, she might still have her life.