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Richie Weiss


To: Fellow boater
From: Paul Schelp
Date: 7/16/97

Below is a copy of the Endicott report on the death of Rich Weiss, FYI.
Bill Endicott, the US team coach during Richie's earlier years on the team,
forwarded the report to me and has given permission to disseminate it to
interested parties in the boating community. I have posted a copy to
and sent copies to Charlie Walbridge and the AWA Journal.


THE WEISS ACCIDENT

by John Trujillo, Elliot Weintrob and Bill Endicott
12 July 1997

The whitewater canoeing family was shocked to hear of the death of Rich
Weiss, one of its most talented members. A two-time Olympian, World Silver
Medalist and a Ph.D. known for his calm judgment, Rich seemed a most
unlikely candidate for a boating mishap. We all want to understand what
happened because we fear, "if it could happen to him, it could happen to
any of us."

Several people contributed to this document. First, is John Trujillo,
who is the only witness to what happened. Second, is Elliot Weintrob who
interviewed John, hiked in to examine the accident site and talked to
pertinent persons. Lastly, is Bill Endicott who, working with Elliot,
wove all the available information into a narrative. After this was done, it
was sent to John to make sure it comported with what he knew.

Background

On Wednesday, June 25, 1997, John and Rich were running the Green Truss
section of the White Salmon River in Washington State, which is about 6
miles long. The accident itself occurred on the rapid known as "Big
Brother." John and Rich were preparing for a wildwater type of race
there, to be held approximately 2 weeks later.

Rosi, Rich's wife, was running shuttle for Rich and John. After she
dropped them off at the put-in she went to the bottom of the run and waited.
John and Rich were both in plastic boats and were wearing lifejackets and
helmets. The air temperature was about 80 degrees and the water
temperature 50-55 degrees.

Description of the River

The river is creek-like, about 30 feet wide and contains about 2,000
cfs. It is technical and pushy, a pool,drop, pool,drop situation. It is rated
class 5 in the local guide book. The water level on the day of the accident
was 4 feet. Average flow on this run is 3 - 3.5 feet. The river was high on
the day of the accident but Rich and John had run it at 5 feet two weeks
earlier and 4.5 feet two days earlier. They knew the river and the lines.
Big Brother is a 30-foot waterfall with a small lead-in drop of no more
than 2 feet which is not vertical, followed by an approximately 27-foot
vertical falls. The falls is fairly shallow on the river left two-thirds of the
drop, with a majority of the water going over the right one-third, and then
into a big hydraulic at the base of the falls.

Although Big Brother is the largest vertical drop on the run, it is not
known as the most difficult section, nor does it have the most difficult
approach. It is about three-quarters of a mile into the run. John and
Rich had done well on the run up to this point and they felt fine as they
approached Big Brother.

Big Brother is set within a lush, heavily-treed gorge. Right at the
rapid there are 2 approximately 30-foot high vertical walls. The mist off the
right hand side of the river creates a moss-covered environment
encompassing the entire right hand wall. There is a great deal of mist.
From the top of the drop it is difficult to see what is going on below.

On river right about 6 to 9 feet out from the base of the falls but
still in the backwash of the hydraulic there is an undercut cave that is
visible at about 3.5 feet, but not visible on the day of the accident. In a
previous trip on the river, John had had a mishap at this place and had been
pushed into the cave, while still in his boat. He remained there for about 30
seconds before finally being released.

Below the hydraulic is a slow moving pool for about 40 feet. Below this
flat pool, however, there is a 15-foot waterfall. It is run on river right
but it is not an easy run. Below it is a large hydraulic in the center of the
river. After this drop the water pushes to river right. It was 100 feet
downstream of this falls where Rich's body was found on the river right,
washed up against a log about 10 inches in diameter, stripped of all
bark and branches. The police report stated that Rich died after going over a
15-foot waterfall and while it is true that he washed over this falls,
it was not where the original accident occurred.

The Accident

Standard practice for running Big Brother is to eddy out on river left,
get out of the boat, scout the falls, review what is known as the
appropriate line and proceed. This is what John and Rich did.

The correct line is a wide peel-out from river left, going two-thirds of
the way across the narrow river, enabling one to make a move starting from
river right back to river left. This enables one to follow a seam of water
over the more shallow part of the falls and away from the hydraulic on river
right.

In the peel-out in setting up the maneuver, one travels over a slight
(18-24 inch, but not vertical) drop before hooking back left, banking off a
boil-line to do so.

In the past, the drop has been run numerous times successfully and
upright. Other boaters have flipped at the bottom of the drop but then
made easy rolls.

On this day, John was the first over the drop. He was on line, flipped
at the bottom, rolled and was pushed to river left where he eddied out.
Rich came next. He was too far right; he did not get over to the left soon
enough. This resulted in him dropping into the hydraulic on the river
right. He was immediately back-endered in the hydraulic. He was still in the
boat at the time.

When John saw that Rich was not immediately spit out of the hydraulic,
he noted the time on his wristwatch, 5:16 PM and about 30 seconds. He did
this because he was well-versed in river safety procedures and knew that it
was important to be aware of time passing in a dangerous situation. For
instance, it is known that at 2 minutes underwater, the subject is
likely to be unconscious but able to be resuscitated. At 10 minutes it gets
marginal. And after 15 minutes it is probably too late to do anything.
John was prepared for Rich to wash out either alone or in his boat, and to
perform a boat rescue.

But the kayak continued to cartwheel. The mist was so severe John had
difficulty seeing whether Rich was still in the boat or not. But at 2
minutes, John saw that Rich was definitely not in the boat any more. At
this point, John quickly exited his boat on river right and proceeded
upstream along the narrow, slippery bank jutting 4-5 feet out from the vertical
wall, getting as close to the hydraulic as possible. During this period Rich's
boat washed out of the hydraulic but there was still no sign of Rich.

John then started throwing his throw-rope into the falls, hoping that
Rich might grab it, or that it might ensnare Rich. He did this for about 40
minutes. He threw the rope everywhere, including into the underwater
cave that he knew was there.

When he could see that this was not working, he got back into his boat,
ran the next drop, retrieved Rich's boat and got out below the drop on river
right. He then hiked out to the road, hitch-hiked to town and called the
Sheriff. He estimates that he made this call about 90 minutes after the
accident, or about 6:46 PM.

Rescue Team

The Sheriff came to where John was. John led him and 2 rescue team
members into the river. They immediately found Rich on the log. He still had
his life jacket and helmet on. But it took about 5 hours (or until about
11:45 PM) to get him from the river and the gorge back to the road where Rosi
waited.

Rich had a slight cut over his left eye, too low down to be protected by
any helmet. There was a second small cut on the right temple. There was a
third cut, this one on his forehead, from an accident one week previously and
not caused by this incident. No other marks were noticed by any one of
several people who saw the body.

The Klickitat County District Attorney, Knute Rife, who investiated the
matter, says that the cause of death was drowning but there is no way of
telling whether a blow to the head caused Rich to go unconscious first
and then drown, or whether he drowned without being knocked out.


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