Ace Whitewater has unprecedented 2 deaths on the Gauley River in 3 days
Ace Whitewater, aka Ace Adventure Center or American-Canadian Expeditions Ltd, has had 2 deaths in three days of rafting the Gauley River this year. Previous to the three rafting deaths this year there had been 3 deaths in the last three years on the Gauley, two of which occurred on an ACE Whitewater Tour.
"It is sad and everyone is shell-shocked and searching and looking to see if there is anything we can do," said Mark Lewis, president of the Fayetteville-based West Virginia Professional River Outfitters. "To have three in one season is unprecedented to us.”
ACE Adventure Center’s own website explains that “The University of Colorado studied rafting safety for the years from 1990 to 1997. The University determined that the total fatalities (drowning and health related) during this time period was 0.23 fatalities per 100,000 user days. That is 1 death occurred per 428,953 user days. The average rate from drowning per 100,000 user days is 0.15 or 1 death per 674,069 user days. Non drowning deaths, encompassing heart attacks, respiratory problems, and other health problems, resulted in 0.08 deaths per 100,000 or 1 death per 1,179,621 user days.
By these statistics, for ACE, the American-Canadian Expedition Ltd, to have 2 deaths in just 3 rafting days would seem to raise a red flag in the industry as an extremely high number of fatalities in a single season and very few user days. Checking ACE’s safety record is also disturbing, the last posted DNR required records for accidents during the season, show that the American-Canadian Expeditions, (ACE) have the highest injury rate of all outfitters in West Virginia year after year. ( HYPERLINK "http://www.wvdnr.gov/LEnforce/White/RiverMgt/wvww_pubs.shtm" http://www.wvdnr.gov/LEnforce/White/RiverMgt/wvww_pubs.shtm ) And now they are responsible for guided trips on the Gauley resulting in 66% of all deaths on the river by commercial outfitters in the last 6 years.
Ace Adventure Center likes to paint themselves as pioneers of extreme rafting trips and unusual adventures. There websites reports about Extreme Upper Gauley, Trip #17 that
“ACE pioneered this whitewater rafting trip over 15 years ago. At that time, using 12-foot rafts on the Upper Gauley was unthinkable.” Ace Adventure Center also pioneered the technical summer Gauley Rafting trips for boy scouts and other youths that resulted in a death on a scout trip in 2006.
Jerry Cook, the major partner at ACE Adventure Center, also pioneered a
trip that ended at a Class VI rapid (Big Wesser Falls) on the Nantahala
River in North Carolina in the eighties. The ACE website defines
Class VI as:
Nearly impossible and very dangerous. Can be run only by teams of
experts with significant danger to life."
The three deaths this year were reported as follows:
In the first accident, on Saturday, Sept. 12, Eric Clark, 40, of Circleville, Ohio, died after going into cardiac arrest. In the second accident, on Sunday, Sept. 27, on an ACE Whitewater guided trip, Eric L. Hampton, 32, of Louisville, Ky., was on a raft that flipped at Pillow Rock, the largest Class V rapid on the Upper Gauley River. The rapid is sandwiched between giant boulders strewn into the steep, rugged canyon directly below Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park. In the third death, also on an ACE Adventure Center guide trip on Friday, Oct. 2, a 30-year-old Fishers, Ind., man, Shane Loveall, died at Summersville Memorial Hospital after he fell from a raft into the Class V rapid called Lost Paddle and became pinned under water.
These unusual amounts of injuries and deaths on ACE Whitewater’s commercial trips may force Jerry Cook and the ACE Adventure Center to re-prioritize its passion for pioneering for a passion for safety although that has not appeared to be its major concern after the previous season’s fatalities. Ultimately this extreme season may prove to provide a challenge to the limit of liability imposed by the West Virginia Legislature. It may finally lead to the much needed stricter regulation of the West Virginia's whitewater rafting industry in the interest of safety and standards, to provide more consistent trips and the implementation of a guide license and standard training for guides, to help protect the state's large visitor base.