Perhaps the biggest SUP accident in the world unfolded in Wales on Oct. 30 when four standup paddleboarders died on the flooded Cleddau River in Haverfordwest.
According to local reports, a group of nine people from different areas across South Wales were participating in an annual tour, spending the weekend together exploring the river. Part of an organized outing, the group was reportedly part of the South Wales Paddle Boarders and Salty Dog Co. Reports say the group had been in the water only minutes when they were hit by a deluge of rushing water as they paddled near a weir on the swollen river. A riverside weir/lowhead dam contributed to the accident.
Rescue Attempt Results in Death of Third Victim
Dyfed-Powys Police announced that two women and a man died at the scene in the accident, with a fourth victim, Andrea Powell, 41, dying later in the hospital. One of the victims, former soldier and ardent supper Paul O’Dwyer, 42, died while trying to rescue the other two victims — Morgan Rogers, 24, and Nicola Wheatley, 40 — during the tragedy. The five other paddlers escaped unhurt from the incident.
Whitewater safety experts stress the dangers of lowhead dams at all times when paddling, as the tragedy illustrates.
“This is not the first multiple fatality at a low head dams,” says Charlie Walbridge, longtime American Whitewater Accident Database Manager. “Water can be deceptively fast, especially at flood. Stopping and portaging above unrunnable drops becomes very difficult. Whole groups can blunder into the hydraulic. I suspect that they didn’t realize how fast-moving the water was until they got on it, and were not prepared to avoid the dam.”
A rescue operation was launched after police received reports of ‘people in distress’ in the water, including 30 firefighters and swiftwater rescue technicians.
The accident occurred amidst a heavy rainstorm, with 70mph winds and heavy rainfall continuing throughout the weekend due to a “deep Atlantic low pressure system” that arrived from the west.
A team of inspectors from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch is continuing to investigate the accident. Other reports said a woman was arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter, and later released under investigation.
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