Sunday, October 17, 2010

What went wrong.

I first saw this video linked online, it is helmet cam footage of a very bad day paddling. the experience, though not the video, ends with a helicopter rescue. Though this is whitewater I think it has some valuable lessons for us. The kayakers paddle broke when trying to roll - which in and of itself is both incredible and unbelievably bad luck - but there were several mistakes made by this paddler that I think we can learn from.

I don't mean to embarrass this paddler, I got his permission to post the video, as he agreed there were lessons to be learned.

I think that the most valuable lesson here is this. Rarely do people die when they make a mistake. Most climbing deaths on Mt. Everest don't involve someone rappelling off the end of their rope. But what happens is this. You make a mistake and an hour, or a day, or a week later, that mistake has been compounded and amplified - usually by other mistakes - to a point where you suddenly realize that you made a life threatening error and now have to claw yourself out of the hole you have inadvertently dug.

All to often I hear this phrase, 'Of course it's safe, we have always done it this way, and no has ever gotten hurt!' But having done something over and over again and not having a problem doesn't make it safe, it means you didn't get caught.

So what is the one thing this paddler didn't do, that would have made this day paddle an inconvenience instead of almost the end of his life? You may think his luck turned bad when the paddle broke, but in fact his fate was -almost- sealed several hours before the video starts.

Thanks to ScottyB for letting me post this.

The Swim from ScottyB on Vimeo.


  1. That's the scariest thing I've ever watched.
    I can only guess where he went beacon-thingy?

  2. Went alone? Didn't tell anyone he was going? Let go of the boat? Was experienced enough to do the roll while alone?

  3. Sorry - was NOT experienced enough to do the roll?

  4. I am sure he had a solid roll, but I think the biggest thing is that he was paddling alone. Particularly in a very cold, and very high volume river.

  5. Went alone! I got it on the second guess.

  6. Wow... was hard to watch. As a sea kayaker, I'm used to having a spare paddle, VHF, flares, and lots of rescue equipment. I realize that having a spare paddle doesn't do too much unless you can renter your boat... which really isn't happening unless you do a reentry-and-roll I guess. For whitewater you cannot carry much gear, never mind a spare paddle, but not padding alone is huge.

  7. Alana, if this had been a sea kayak he could have done a re-enter and roll, or a rodeo/ladder re-entry to get back in, and then retrieved his spare paddle if he had one. But there is no way that I know of to get back into a whitewater kayak.

    for me this brings home a sobering thought (as someone who uses a helmet cam a lot) with all the helmet cams on peoples heads currently - and they are only going ot get smaller and lighter - that at some point someone is going to film their own death.


  8. I think this was a suicidal gesture. He was alone without a solid roll and NO SPARE PADDLE. Cannot tell what the boat was, but it looked like a tub. I suspect a hatch opened as it looks as if there was a Cleopatrics needle. Then he let go of what little paddle he had left, and finally let go of his boat. All the while he seemed not to be attempting to do anything which suggests he lacked knowledge and experience. Other than that it was a perfect outing.

  9. Silbs, it was a whitewater boat, so no hatches. He said - I spoke with him, well, emailed with him - he had a solid roll, but the paddle broke when he rolled. Which I just find incredible. He said he let go of his boat to try and swim, and then the current was so strong that he could make little progress.