Kayaker, 23, drowns in Shehandoah River

June 30, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - A 23-year-old Maryland man drowned in the Shenandoah River Sunday afternoon after he fell out of his kayak in Bull Falls, a class two whitewater area, officials said.

The man was identified as Jesse Heiss of Walkersville, Md., Assistant State Medical Examiner Donald Shirley said.

Bull Falls is a short distance upstream from the U.S. 340 bridge between the KOA campgrounds and Murphy's Farm, officials said.

Heiss had traveled about halfway through Bull Falls when his kayak capsized, said K.E. White, a conservation officer with the state Division of Natural Resources.


Heiss was able to grab his kayak and float through the rest of the falls holding onto his kayak with one arm and paddle with the other, White said.

A spray skirt around Heiss' waist became snagged on a submerged log, White said. The force of the current forced him under the water and held him under, causing him to drown, White said.

A spray skirt is a device that keeps water out of a kayak as riders pass through rough water.

A rescue team made up of members of local whitewater rafting companies arrived at the scene and cut Heiss' spray skirt to free him, White said. Heiss floated downstream and members of the rescue team rescued him and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation, White said.

Heiss was loaded into a raft and taken downstream to the U.S. 340 bridge to an ambulance, White said.

Emergency rescue crews were alerted of the drowning about 2:12 p.m.

Heiss was kayaking with two other people, one of whom was his father-in-law, Shirley said.

After Heiss became trapped against a submerged log, one of his arms came out of the water, Shirley said. Shirley said Heiss may have been trying to reach onto something.

The other two people in the man's party tried to pull Heiss out, Shirley said.

"It's a shame he just couldn't stand up. But I know that river. That must have been awful for him to go through," Shirley said.

Despite its calm appearance, the Shenandoah has tremendously strong currents in some sections.

Sections of whitewater on the river are ranked one through five, according to their degree of strength, White said. Level five is the strongest whitewater, White said.

White said he believes Sunday's drowning was the first this year in the Eastern Panhandle.

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