Packraft Fatalities

Five known fatalities to date, all in Alaska.

Hyperlinks in this post:

Nizina River, Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska (2018)
American Whitewater Accident Report
cold water
no PFD or drysuit
limited experience

Aidan Don (22) and a friend were dropped off by airplane at Nizina Lake, intending to float the Nizina back down to McCarthy. The Nizina is Class II where Aidan flipped out of his boat, but very cold and choked with glacial silt.

Neither boater wore PFDs (or drysuits, I assume). There has been some discussion about how they were able to rent boats without safety equipment.

Lion’s Head, Matanuska River, Alaska (2017)
American Whitewater Accident Report
cold water
long swim
considerable experience

Martin Rinke (63), an experienced boater, fell out of his boat in the Lion’s Head section of Matanuska River. Lion’s Head is known for its big hydraulics and difficulty distinguishing rocks from water due to both being the same gray color. The AW accident report mentions an IK and Kayak, but Martin was in a packraft. I am confident that Martin was in full safety gear.

Tana River, Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska (2014)
American Whitewater Accident Report
cold water
no drysuit
significant experience, but considerable discomfort with water

As part of the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, Rob Kehrer (44) and Greg Mills portaged the Tana River Canyon (Class IV), putting in below the technical features. The nature of the river at their put in was cold, silty, with large hydraulics, but technically only Class II. Rob flipped in some of the big water hydraulics and was instantly separated from his boat and Greg.

Rob was wearing rain gear and a PFD. I believe he had some gear essentials (stove, etc.) in his pockets, which would have worked against his PFD’s buoyancy. It is likely that a dry suit would have made a huge difference. The Wilderness Classic participants generally do not use drysuits.

Katete River, Alaska (2012)
Wrangell Sentinel
high water
considerable experience

Colin Buness (25) disappeared on a solo, I think, trip to the Katate, a tributary to the Stikine. Colin had considerable experience, including actively training to become an ANG Pararescue Jumper (PJ). Rescuers found his packraft in a log jam.

“We found his foot tracks in a gravel bar where we believe he had pulled in and looked downriver,” Tim said. “We think he was scouting out the canyon and everything looked good to him, but he couldn’t see around the corner of that bend, which is where we feel that he went into the water.”

Sag River, Brooks Range, Alaska (2009)
Packraft Forum
Fairbanks Daily News Miner, page 1 and 6

cold water
no PFD or drysuit
limited experience?
Jaymes H. Schoenberg (22) and a partner used packrafts to cross the swollen Sagavanirktok River en route to Arctic Village. Jaymes overturned his boat and was quickly separated from his partner. He was not wearing a PFD.