MSA report released on entrapment and near drowning rafting the Rangitikei River


By Tony Barnett
October 04, 2007

New Zealand's Maritime Safety Authority has released the accident report for the entrapment and near drowning of an Australian school student rafting the Rangitikei River in October last year.

The male student was on a school rafting day when their raft 'wrapped' and then 'flipped' on a rock in ‘Long Drop’ rapid, sending all occupants of the raft into the water.

Subsequently, a student became trapped underwater in a 'sieve' just downstream.

The raft guides quickly tried to free the student from the sieve by attaching
a line to the shoulder of his personal flotation device and trying to pull him clear, but, the line ripped the shoulder strap off the jacket and came free.

The trip leader then climbed down as far as possible on the upstream side of the sieve and using his foot, managed to free him from whatever had trapped the student under the sieve.

The student was then washed quickly through the sieve and popped out the other side "unconscious, blue in the face and not breathing." Guides quickly swam the boy to the shore where he regained consciousness and started coughing after "one rescue breath."

A helicopter was requested immediately and successfully evacuated the student and a teacher to Palmerston North Hospital. The student was discharged the following day.

The report provides the following "findings" in response to the incident;


The Sieve

"During the investigation, a team from River Valley Ventures and the MNZ Rafting Safety Auditor visited the scene. After going through the events of the incident and photographing the area it was decided to clean up the sieve by removing small branches, twigs and small rocks that had accumulated around
the sieve and to try and identify what had trapped the team member."

"The large rock, which was causing the sieve, was thought to be solid and firmly set in place. However, as they started to clean around the sieve, they found that there were a number of smaller rocks, which were holding the large rock in place. Once these were cleared the large rock tumbled down to the
bottom of the riverbed in the rapid and so removed this hazard."

Access to a pipe for breathing underwater

"The trapped rafter was only 15cm under the water."

"Guides will in the future carry fold up snorkels as part of their rescue
kit. The maximum effective length of a pipe/hose for breathing underwater is approximately 18cm. If using a hose from a raft pump, the hose can be cut to the right length."

Helicopter rescue

"They communicated with the helicopter dispatcher indicating that they were unsure whether the helicopter could land at that section of the river."

The helicopter arrived at the scene with the intention of landing but was unable to do so because of the uneven terrain. They arrived without a 3rd crewmember and a winch. If they had carried a winch they would not have been able to take both the student and teacher, due to the restriction on
passenger numbers. The helicopter was able to ‘hover load’, which meant that the crew, the student and teacher had to first step onto the skid of the helicopter as it hovered off the ground.

"Check beforehand if there is an area where a helicopter can land and how many patients it will need to carry."

"Safe Operating Plans (SOP’s) should be reviewed with regard to helicopter landing sites, especially for multiple evacuations. If the helicopter can land then there is a better chance of getting more people out. Consideration should be given to the use of handheld smoke flares, especially if there is potential for more than one group to be operating on the river. The smoke flares will alert the helicopter to the correct site. Smoke flares will also provide the pilot with an indication of the wind direction."

Life jackets

During the rescue, the fabric of the Extra Multifit lifejacket that was worn by the student tore and the buckle was broken.

There were three types of lifejackets that were worn by the group on the day of the incident namely, Hutchwilco White Water 2, America’s Cup Type 5 and Extra Multifit.

"The first two have no strap tensioning system over the shoulder. This means that they may have been more difficult to clip a carabineer to the shoulder epilates, as they are wider."

"Whilst this could not have been done in this incident, guides need to have regard to the option of clipping a rescue line around the body as opposed to the lifejacket. Although the movement of the guides were restricted in this incident by the adjacent larger rock, a change of angle of the rescue rope
may be required as opposed to applying more strength."


A complete copy of the report (20064172.pdf) is available by clicking here.

Copyright © Tony Barnett. 10.04.2007. All Rights Reserved.