Team GB kayaker tells of dramatic rescue after injuring his back paddling down River Swale waterfall

Team GB kayaker tells of dramatic rescue after injuring his back paddling down waterfall

ON THE MEND: Kayaker Jack Gunter recovering at Darlington Memorial Hospital

DANGEROUS DESCENT: Lower Kisdon Force, near Keld, in Swaledale. Pic courtesy of Adam Jennison.

RESCUE TEAM: Members of Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team pull the kayaker up a 50m bank. Pic courtesy of SMRT.

First published in News
Last updated
Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by , Regional Chief Reporter

A TEAM GB kayaker has told of his dramatic rescue after he injured his back while paddling down a waterfall on a swollen Yorkshire Dales river.

About 40 firefighters and volunteers from Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team (SMRT) came to the aid of 20-year-old Jack Gunter following the incident on the River Swale near Keld on Sunday evening.

The Nottingham University student, who is originally from London, was negotiating Lower Kisdon Force when he injured his back.

Mr Gunter said: “It was the last run of the day and it was getting quite late.

“I had a look at it first and got the perfect line at the drop – if I did it again I would take exactly the same route.

“But I hit the bottom and I felt my back crumpling.”

The kayaker, who has competed for Great Britain at World and European championships, was thrown a rope by friends watching from nearby rocks to stop him from being washed away.

The friends then entered the water and pulled him to safety before phoning for help.

Firefighters, SMRT volunteers and paramedics rushed to the scene and battled for around three hours to get him out of the canoe, pull him up a 50m bank strapped to a stretcher and carry him for half a mile to a waiting ambulance.

The rescuers worked by torchlight with hail and sleet falling.

Doctors at Darlington Memorial Hospital initially feared the kayaker had broken his back, but test later revealed he has suffered a less-serious compression injury.

The kayaker said: “I want to say thank you to the fire crews, mountain rescue volunteers and ambulance staff who came to my rescue – I wouldn't have been able to get out of there without them.”

Last night, Steve Clough, from SMRT, said the team was delighted to hear that the kayaker was making a speedy recovery.

He added: “It's an area that we are very familiar with and have had previous kayaker incidents.

“These rivers are unpredictable and the conditions change very quickly.

“We're coming across people who are very well equipped and very experienced who get into trouble - even the best can be caught out.”

SMRT is funded solely by donations from the public. For details, visit swaledalemrt.org.uk

In January last year, kayaker Matthew Baird-Parker, 36, from Heckmonwike, in West Yorkshire, died after his kayak became trapped in debris in Arkle Beck, a tributary of the River Swale.

Comments (4)

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9:03am Thu 13 Feb 14

Colcat says...

Glad he'll make a full recovery.
Glad he'll make a full recovery. Colcat
  • Score: 3

9:15am Thu 13 Feb 14

Ally F says...

Second the comment above. Can't help but think there is some element of personal responsibility in such stories - recent apalling weather, very swollen river, light fading, hail and sleet. Remote location half a mile from the nearest road. Did Jack risk assess this event before proceeding?

There must be safer places to hone your sporting skills, a place where the consequences of an accident are much less likely and less onerous to the victim and rescuers alike. The Tees Barrage springs to mind.

But for the selfless work of professional rescuers and volunteer organisations we would surely see many more fatalities of thrill seekers putting themselves in danger in remote countryside. Perhaps Jack might want to thank those who saved him while telling the story of his dramatic rescue?
Second the comment above. Can't help but think there is some element of personal responsibility in such stories - recent apalling weather, very swollen river, light fading, hail and sleet. Remote location half a mile from the nearest road. Did Jack risk assess this event before proceeding? There must be safer places to hone your sporting skills, a place where the consequences of an accident are much less likely and less onerous to the victim and rescuers alike. The Tees Barrage springs to mind. But for the selfless work of professional rescuers and volunteer organisations we would surely see many more fatalities of thrill seekers putting themselves in danger in remote countryside. Perhaps Jack might want to thank those who saved him while telling the story of his dramatic rescue? Ally F
  • Score: -15

11:05am Thu 13 Feb 14

Barbara A. says...

Our rescue services do a wonderful job and I'm pleased that Jack was rescused succesfully.

However I take exception to the words quoted that "Even the best can be caught out", please choose your words more carefully. At the end of the article you name a young man Matthew who lost his life as have many others on our rivers. I'm sure to Matthews family and friends he was "The Best".

All lives are equal, well equipped or not.
Our rescue services do a wonderful job and I'm pleased that Jack was rescused succesfully. However I take exception to the words quoted that "Even the best can be caught out", please choose your words more carefully. At the end of the article you name a young man Matthew who lost his life as have many others on our rivers. I'm sure to Matthews family and friends he was "The Best". All lives are equal, well equipped or not. Barbara A.
  • Score: 5

3:23pm Thu 13 Feb 14

Colcat says...

Ally F wrote:
Second the comment above. Can't help but think there is some element of personal responsibility in such stories - recent apalling weather, very swollen river, light fading, hail and sleet. Remote location half a mile from the nearest road. Did Jack risk assess this event before proceeding?

There must be safer places to hone your sporting skills, a place where the consequences of an accident are much less likely and less onerous to the victim and rescuers alike. The Tees Barrage springs to mind.

But for the selfless work of professional rescuers and volunteer organisations we would surely see many more fatalities of thrill seekers putting themselves in danger in remote countryside. Perhaps Jack might want to thank those who saved him while telling the story of his dramatic rescue?
The river was NOT "very swollen" (as described by Ally F) or even "swollen" (as described in the article). At the time of the incident the Swale was measured at 0.87m, which is considered a "medium" level by paddlers. This is yet again glorification to make the situation seem worse than it was by the reporter, who should have done at least some research into how kayakers perceive it, rather than assuming that a) it was raining, and b) there was an incident, therefore c) the river must have been swollen! As anyone who has much experience in paddling would know, safety is always a very high priority, with difficult rapids being inspected and normally having safety set up, with people at suitable positions with throwlines, paddles to reach swimmers, and a knowledge of how to use the equipment they have. The majority of whitewater paddlers will pay for themselves to go on at least a basic safety course run by a qualified professional coach at a level determined by the British Canoe Union, many going on advanced courses or sharing and practising knowledge picked up on these courses. I myself have stowed in my kayak: a 20m throwline, a 16ft sling, several karabiners, a group shelter for 6-8 people, some spare clothing, a torch, a drink, my mobile phone in a solid drybox, a first aid kit (and I know how to use it): and on my person (in my buoyancy aid - we don't wear life-jackets, and for a good reason!): a knife, whistle, chocolate, and a couple of pulleys; round my neck are dogtags with my personal details, NHS number, allergy info and ICE contact info. It is not unusual for most paddlers to carry similar items, normally spread amongst the group. To suggest that Jack (or most paddlers) did not/do not risk assess the situation is to fall foul of reporting that likes to give the impression that people such as Jack Gunter and all the other outdoor enthusiasts or people who partake in what some like to call them "extreme" (hate that term) sports. Remember that 'non-incident' back in 2008 in the Lake District, when a mountain marathon was called off after 3 hours due to extreme weather, and the media had a field day, yet NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON of the 2,500 entrants needed to be rescued!?!

To the outside observer, yes kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, mountaineering etc seem to be dangerous, and they take place in what can be dangerous environments, but when done properly the risks are minimised to a great extent. Yes, accidents can and do happen, as is the case here, and yes, participants sometimes lose their lives, as one did on Sunday on the River Usk in Wales, but these events are rare because participants take their own and each other's safety very seriously. Jack Gunter is a TEAM GB kayaker, so is very competent, and was operating within his abilities. Unfortunately, sometimes, accident do just happen.

Maybe Mr Gunter should stick to safe sports like table tennis, rugby, swimming, cycling, running, football, tennis, horse riding, American football? Yet all of these sports have a higher fatality rate (percentage per number of participants, not just a higher basic number) than canoeing/kayaking. In fact, something like six times as many people drown in cars than in canoes/kayaks! The most dangerous part of a trip is the journey there and back! (And incidentally, the nearest I ever came to drowning was one time at the Tees Barrage White Water Course!)
[quote][p][bold]Ally F[/bold] wrote: Second the comment above. Can't help but think there is some element of personal responsibility in such stories - recent apalling weather, very swollen river, light fading, hail and sleet. Remote location half a mile from the nearest road. Did Jack risk assess this event before proceeding? There must be safer places to hone your sporting skills, a place where the consequences of an accident are much less likely and less onerous to the victim and rescuers alike. The Tees Barrage springs to mind. But for the selfless work of professional rescuers and volunteer organisations we would surely see many more fatalities of thrill seekers putting themselves in danger in remote countryside. Perhaps Jack might want to thank those who saved him while telling the story of his dramatic rescue?[/p][/quote]The river was NOT "very swollen" (as described by Ally F) or even "swollen" (as described in the article). At the time of the incident the Swale was measured at 0.87m, which is considered a "medium" level by paddlers. This is yet again glorification to make the situation seem worse than it was by the reporter, who should have done at least some research into how kayakers perceive it, rather than assuming that a) it was raining, and b) there was an incident, therefore c) the river must have been swollen! As anyone who has much experience in paddling would know, safety is always a very high priority, with difficult rapids being inspected and normally having safety set up, with people at suitable positions with throwlines, paddles to reach swimmers, and a knowledge of how to use the equipment they have. The majority of whitewater paddlers will pay for themselves to go on at least a basic safety course run by a qualified professional coach at a level determined by the British Canoe Union, many going on advanced courses or sharing and practising knowledge picked up on these courses. I myself have stowed in my kayak: a 20m throwline, a 16ft sling, several karabiners, a group shelter for 6-8 people, some spare clothing, a torch, a drink, my mobile phone in a solid drybox, a first aid kit (and I know how to use it): and on my person (in my buoyancy aid - we don't wear life-jackets, and for a good reason!): a knife, whistle, chocolate, and a couple of pulleys; round my neck are dogtags with my personal details, NHS number, allergy info and ICE contact info. It is not unusual for most paddlers to carry similar items, normally spread amongst the group. To suggest that Jack (or most paddlers) did not/do not risk assess the situation is to fall foul of reporting that likes to give the impression that people such as Jack Gunter and all the other outdoor enthusiasts or people who partake in what some like to call them "extreme" (hate that term) sports. Remember that 'non-incident' back in 2008 in the Lake District, when a mountain marathon was called off after 3 hours due to extreme weather, and the media had a field day, yet NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON of the 2,500 entrants needed to be rescued!?! To the outside observer, yes kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, mountaineering etc seem to be dangerous, and they take place in what can be dangerous environments, but when done properly the risks are minimised to a great extent. Yes, accidents can and do happen, as is the case here, and yes, participants sometimes lose their lives, as one did on Sunday on the River Usk in Wales, but these events are rare because participants take their own and each other's safety very seriously. Jack Gunter is a TEAM GB kayaker, so is very competent, and was operating within his abilities. Unfortunately, sometimes, accident do just happen. Maybe Mr Gunter should stick to safe sports like table tennis, rugby, swimming, cycling, running, football, tennis, horse riding, American football? Yet all of these sports have a higher fatality rate (percentage per number of participants, not just a higher basic number) than canoeing/kayaking. In fact, something like six times as many people drown in cars than in canoes/kayaks! The most dangerous part of a trip is the journey there and back! (And incidentally, the nearest I ever came to drowning was one time at the Tees Barrage White Water Course!) Colcat
  • Score: 29

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