Kayaker killed in remote 'jungle' rapids accident in far north Queensland
Posted on 12.06.2018
Authorities have described the “very arduous” conditions they battled trying to retrieve the body of a 37-year-old Sydney man who died while kayaking with friends on a remote far north Queensland river.
The experienced kayaker had been paddling with four friends from Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania on the North Johnstone river near Malanda, when his kayak became wedged in rocks in a set of rapids on Thursday afternoon.
Rescue crews were only finally able to reach the man’s body just before dark on Friday.
Police Inspector Rolf Straatemeier said the man was trapped underneath his kayak in an air pocket under surging water.
“We had hope yesterday [Friday] of finding him,” Inspector Straatemeier said.
“The male person we know had been alive for a number of hours because he had been calling out to his friends.
“It was a group of five friends, having a great time going down that river, and tragically it just went wrong on the day.”
Police said the man was the first of the group to travel down that section of the rapids.
The site is extremely remote and could not be accessed by road — only by river or air.
All rescue personnel and their equipment had to be winched in via helicopter and authorities had no mobile phone or radio reception in the area.
About 50 pilots, police officers, swift water rescue crews and State Emergency Service personnel were involved in the operation.
Queensland Fire and Rescue Service Assistant Commissioner John Bolger said the search and rescue was conducted in “the most arduous of circumstances”.
“They were working in very deep water, fast-moving water, basically in a jungle environment around a waterfall,” he said.
“They are highly trained and highly skilled — an amazing job, tragic outcome, but an amazing job.”
Some adventure websites have described the river as “one of the more challenging whitewater rivers Australia has to offer”.
Tinaroo Canoe Club president Peter McAulay said the North Johnstone River could be unpredictable and was only suitable for highly experienced paddlers.
“It’s not what you call fun kayaking or easy kayaking — [there are] lots of rapids, waterfalls,” he said.
“It can be quite dangerous going down — even a one-metre drop, if your boat gets caught and you can’t get out.”
Mr McAulay, who has more than three decades of paddling experience, said accidents of this nature were rare but not unprecedented.
“It’s just one of those things that happens — you go down a certain place and you get caught because you’ve misjudged something or didn’t realise there was a rock there … and it caught you unaware and before you can react you’re stuck,” he said.
“These things are quite real in the sport that we do.”
A report will be prepared for the coroner.
At this difficult time, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the deceased man.
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