Kayaker: Going over falls was not a big deal

Kayaker: Going over falls was not a big deal

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by kgw.com and AP Staff

kgw.com

Posted on June 28, 2011 at 6:37 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 28 at 12:44 PM

PORTLAND -- The Multnomah County sheriff's office said it took 14 emergency responders more than an hour to rescue a kayaker injured Sunday at the base of Bridal Veil Falls.

A hiker taking photos in the area told KGW he was surprised to look up and see a woman carrying her kayak up the steep slope of the falls.  Steve Dierks said then, to his astonishment, she got into her kayak and launched over the edge.

Photos: Kayaker goes over Bridal Veil Falls

"Seemed like slow-motion to me, about two seconds going down with the camera in my eye," Dierks said. "Amazing, I thought she was great, I just wished I was that daring! My heart was fluttering the whole time, but especially so when she went off the edge."

Althea Sullivan, 19, of Eugene, said she was not hurt in the drop. Then, her friends Robert McKenzie, 19, of Eugene and his brother, Benjamin McKenzie, 18, of Eugene tried it, too.

In a phone interview, Sullivan said, "It's not that big of a deal, people run waterfalls that are bigger. It is a difficult drop, you just have to go into it with an understanding of what you're paddling into. There are a lot bigger stuff and a lot harder stuff being run."

The sheriff's office said Robert suffered a back injury and was taken to a Portland hospital for treatment.  Benjamin suffered a broken nose, according to sheriff's spokesman Lt. Mark Matsushima. A fourth kayaker was not injured.

Dierks said he left before the two men went over the falls, so he did not see what went wrong for McKenzie.

Robert released a statement to the media Monday that read: "Thank you to everyone for your well wishes and concern. It is greatly appreciated. Right now, all of my attention is focused on getting better."

Authorities were investigating whether the kayakers broke any state parks rules by kayaking over the falls.

The falls drop 120 feet in two steps. Sullivan said she entered midway down and dropped about 50 feet.  The group took turns running the falls as they recorded video in the state park in the Columbia River Gorge, Matsushima said.

When they realized the severity of Robert McKenzie's mishap, the first call went to his father, a Eugene physician. He told them to call 9-1-1 right away.

Matsushima described the foursome as having about five years of kayaking experience. They had practiced on waterfalls in the Eugene area without problems. All were wearing helmets and sport life jackets.

He said the kayakers "expressed regret that peer pressure" may have led to McKenzie's injury.

 

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