2011 a bad year for boating fatalities

Turns out that this year will go down as a bad one for boating fatalities in Pennsylvania. We know it already. By mid-July there had already been 13, according to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. Here's the rundown presented to commissioners at their recent quarterly meeting:

— Fatality 1, Allegheny River, Venango County, April 17, 3:40 p.m. on a Sunday. A 56-year-old male paddler lost his life when his 17-foot kayak capsized. The victim was paddling with a friend on the rain-swollen waters of the Allegheny River when he capsized.

The witness on the water stated that when he looked back upstream to see where the victim was, he saw the victim struggling with the kayak. The witness paddled to shore and called 911. Two rescue boats arrived on scene. The Rockland Volunteer Fire Department rescue boat retrieved the victim, who was wearing a personal floatation device, and was found face down in the water.

The victim was transported to a nearby hospital by an emergency crew where he was pronounced dead. It is not known if the victim could swim but he was an experienced boater who had no formal instruction in boating safety. The water temperature was 49 degrees, so sudden immersion into cold water was a major factor.

— Fatality 2, Fishing Creek, Columbia County, May 7, 6:10 p.m. on a Saturday.

A 37-year-old male paddler lost his life when his 9.5-foot kayak capsized while attempting to paddle over a low-head dam. The victim, who was wearing a PFD, was thrown from the kayak when his bow hit the boil and was forced under. He gained footing for a short time but was caught by the recirculating current.

The victim's paddling companions made several unsuccessful attempts to rescue him, and after several minutes, he was ejected from the boil and recovered by a member of his party. Emergency personnel administered CPR and transported him to Bloomsburg Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The water temperature was 55 degrees, so hypothermia and sudden immersion into cold water were factors. Another member of the paddling party was treated for hypothermia. The operator was wearing a lifejacket and was an experienced boater, but he had no formal instruction in boating safety.

— Fatality 3, Kahle Lake, Venango County, May 8, unknown time on a Sunday.

A 59-year-old male lost his life. His 10-foot open motorboat and intact and buckled PFD were recovered by search teams the following day. The water temperature was 55 degrees, so hypothermia or sudden immersion into cold water may have been factors. The victim, who did not have any formal instruction in boating safety, was not wearing a lifejacket.

— Fatality 4, Mahoning Creek, Armstrong County, May 21, 5:45 p.m. on a Saturday.

A 61-year-old male lost his life when his 14-foot canoe capsized. The victim was seated in the front of a canoe, which was carrying two other passengers.

Shortly after embarking on the rain-swollen creek, the canoe capsized and all three passengers were ejected. Two passengers — only one of whom was wearing a PFD — made it to shore. The victim was a non-swimmer and was not wearing a lifejacket. His body was recovered the following morning.

The victim had no formal boating safety education but had more than 100 hours of boating experience. The water temperature was 56 degrees, so hypothermia or sudden immersion into cold water may have been factors.

— Fatality 5, Youghiogheny River, Fayette County, May 21, 3:20 p.m. on a Saturday.

A 31-year-old male lost his life when his 12-foot kayak capsized. The victim was paddling with a friend on the Youghiogheny River when the friend capsized and swam to shore. The victim remained in his boat and attempted to retrieve his friend's kayak downstream then disappeared from view due to a bend in the river.

The victim's empty kayak was observed traveling over the South Connellsville Dam a short while later. Both kayaks had PFDs shoved into the bow and neither paddler was wearing a lifejacket. The kayaks were designed to be used on flatwater, not whitewater, and neither had spray skirts.

The victim had no whitewater paddling experience. Water levels were three times the normal level. The air temperature was in the low 80s and the water temperature was in the low 50s, so hypothermia or sudden immersion into cold water may have been factors.

— Fatality 6, Lehigh River, Lehigh County, May 25, 7:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. A 53-year-old female lost her life when she launched a 13-foot fiberglass canoe to rescue two dogs that appeared to be swept downstream by the strong current. One hour later the empty canoe was discovered approximately ½ mile downstream from where she launched.

Her body was recovered at Kimmet's Lock 8 miles downstream the following weekend. The air temperature was in the upper 70s but the water temperature was 63 degrees. The victim was not properly dressed for the water temperature, was not wearing a lifejacket, and there were no lifejackets onboard. The water temperature was in the low 60s so hypothermia or sudden immersion into cold water may have been factors.

The victim had a health condition that may have contributed to her drowning. It is unknown whether the victim had any formal boating safety education.

— Fatality 7, Delaware River, Pike County, May 5, 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday. A 71-year-old male lost his life when he fell overboard while rafting on a 12-foot inflatable raft. The victim was rafting with three other passengers on the Delaware River when they encountered a set of rapids in the area of Butler's Riff.

According to the passengers on the raft, the victim went under and never resurfaced. His body was recovered two days later, approximately 20 miles from the original search site. The victim and other passengers onboard were not wearing lifejackets. Water levels were high and the current was swift. Sudden immersion into cold water and alcohol use may have been factors.

— Fatality 8, Lake Erie, Erie County, May 30, 6:25 p.m. on a Monday. A 25-year-old female lost her life when the 32-foot cabin motorboat she was on caught fire and exploded. The boat's operator was having trouble starting the engine after refueling the boat's fuel tanks. There was an issue with the fuel tank and vent and when the engine turned over it ignited the fuel causing an explosion.

There were five others injured in the accident. Of the six passengers onboard, the victim and four others were not wearing lifejackets. Only one passenger, an infant, was wearing a lifejacket and escaped with injuries.

— Fatality 9, Foster Joseph Sayers Dam, Centre County, June 3, 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. A 70-year-old male lost his life when he fell overboard while trying to launch an 18-foot pontoon boat. The boat operator and victim were preparing to launch the pontoon boat that was moored in the marina. The victim was on the dock and released the dock lines.

As he attempted to board the boat, a wind gust caught the boat and pushed it away from the dock. The victim held on to the railing, was pulled off the dock and fell into the water. The victim was conscious when he surfaced. The operator threw a Type IV throwable seat cushion to the victim, but he did not reach for the device and then went face down in the water.

The operator jumped in the water to assist but was unable to keep the victim from sinking. The victim's body was recovered by a park ranger approximately 20 minutes after the incident. Lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful and the victim was pronounced dead at the Mt. Nittany Medical Center.

The victim and operator were not wearing lifejackets. The water temperature was in the 70s.

— Fatality 10, Canoe Creek Lake, Blair County, June 14, unknown time on Tuesday morning. The body of a 71-year-old male was found in the water approximately 100 yards from an anchored 11-foot utility/Jon boat. The victim was known to not wear a life jacket when boating. It appears the victim fell overboard and attempted to get back in the boat but was unsuccessful.

He was found with one arm in a PFD. The cause of death was ruled an accidental drowning.

— Fatality 11, Susquehanna River, Dauphin/Cumberland County, June 15, 4:12 p.m. on a Wednesday. A 41-year-old male lost his life when his 9.5-foot kayak went over the Dock Street Dam at Harrisburg. A witness indicated the victim was seen paddling across the current when he was swept over the dam in his kayak. He was considered a novice paddler and had purchased the kayak only a few days before the incident.

The victim was not wearing a life jacket, although one was found in the boil of the dam along with an inflatable air bladder. The victim's body was recovered the same day, approximately ½ mile downstream of the dam.

— Fatality 12, Youghiogheny River Lake, Somerset County, July 2, 2:15 p.m. on a Saturday. A 50-year-old male lost his life when the 34-foot catamaran he was operating capsized. The customized speedboat was travelling at a high rate of speed on choppy water when the operator lost control, the vessel capsized and all four passengers were violently ejected.

— Fatality 13, Susquehanna River, Bradford County, July 9, 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday. A 47-year-old male lost his life when his 12-foot Jon boat got trapped in a strainer. The victim and a passenger were in the boat when it drifted into strong current and got pinned against an overhanging tree along an island in the river.

The passenger was able to break free from the tree and was washed by the current to the other shoreline. The victim, who remained trapped, continued to struggle and yell. The victim then succumbed and drowned.

Categories: Blog Content, Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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