Canoe tips in rapids

Bystanders pull paddlers from river

Posted: Monday, July 09, 2007

A third boat in less than two weeks overturned at Naptowne Rapids on the Kenai River on Sunday, dumping its occupants into the water. The two canoeists were rescued by bystanders who were able to get them ashore at Mile 17.5 Funny River Road.

Lesley Quelland, a captain with Central Emergency Services, said when rescuers responded to the call, the two canoeists were already on the river bank safe and sound.

"We just made contact with the people, short and sweet," she said. "They had been out of the river, had changed their clothes and were headed off on their own adventure by the time we made contact with them."

Quelland said it's common for CES to make two to three river rescues a summer, but not one right after the other at the same location. She said people have more difficulty at Naptowne Rapids, a mile-and-a-half long Class III rapid, than any other area on the river.

"We don't know without rhyme or reason," she said. "Is it inexperienced boaters? Do they go on canoes or kayaks where they shouldn't be going? Those are some of the things we look at when we make contact with the people who've been out there."

Last week emergency officials identified the body of Stephen Boyer, the California man who was swept downriver when his canoe capsized in the rapids June 26. Boyer's body was identified minutes after a kayaker overturned on the rapids.

Ken Evans, an Anchorage resident, called 911 when the empty canoe floated past his Sterling cabin.

"It was right side up, totally underwater," Evans said, adding it came to rest 300 feet away from the cabin. "Just the bow and stern was sticking up. A dry bag was attached to the boat and keeping it upright."

After 23 years on the river, Evans said he's fished several boats out of the river, mostly canoes, whose owners thought they could handle the rapids.

"People shouldn't be going on the rapids in a canoe unless they are very, very experienced," Evans said.

Even powerboats can capsize in the rapids, he said. Two years ago, he towed a 35-horsepower Hewescraft to the Moose River after it capsized.

"That's got a windshield and everything on it," he said. "It's not easy to flip that boat."

Most paddlers attempt the rapids on purpose, Evans said, ignoring signs that point the way to Bing's Landing, the last pullout before the rapids. Evans is also certain the canoeists were wearing life jackets.

"I've never pulled (out) a dead person that was wearing a life jacket," he said. "The only people who died weren't wearing life jackets."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at

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