Death of experienced canyoner in Claustral - 6 Dec 2007

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Death of experienced canyoner in Claustral - 6 Dec 2007

Post by T2 » 28 May 2018, 12:09

Reproduced from the old Australian Accident Register:

On Thursday 6th December Ian Knapp, a 61 year old Sydney man with ten years canyoning experience, died in Claustral Canyon. The victim and another experienced canyoner in the group had completed this section of the canyon without major incident at least ten times previously. On this trip the victim was with three others when he got into trouble on the final technical obstacle before the exit track; a rock that blocks the canyon that is usually descended with the aid of a hand line.

At this point there are two options for decent; either down the groove on the left (facing downstream) that usually has water flowing down it, or alternatively on the right which is usually free of water. Both options have been known to have a fixed rope in place and there is a log anchor on the right (often with slings around it) that would allow descent by staying out of the main flow of water. It is also possible to drop off the centre of the rock into a pool of water although care must be taken to avoid a large rock that is often just under the water. A number of people have been injured here after hitting the rock. In low water the left groove is an easy scramble that for most becomes a safe slide into the water as it becomes hard to hold the handline.

The group arrived at the rock that blocks the canyon at about 2pm. The other three in the group descended the open V-shaped groove on the left, using the fixed, knotted rope as a hand line and waited at the bottom. When the man started to descend he stepped into the groove about 1.5m further back than where his companions entered the groove. He sat down (facing downstream) in the water, looking as though he was going to slide forward down the groove in the running water. He was holding the hand line. Those watching from the bottom saw him sit down, then wriggle and move to try and slide forward but he seemed to be stuck and couldn't move. The main flow of water was pushing on his back. After a few minutes of struggling unsuccessfully to move he slumped forward and the water flowed over him. The cause of death is
not yet known.

One of the group managed to climb back up but was unable to free the man. He then dropped a rope down and the other two in the group prusiked up to help. They set up a hauling rig with a 4:1 mechanical advantage to try and free the man and although they could lift him a small amount they were unable to free him.

Later efforts by police rescue officers to recover the body took considerable time to free the man from where he had become severely wedged in the groove.

Due to poor weather it was not until Sunday that the man's body was evacuated by helicopter.

Water level:

The water level at the time of this accident was higher than what's been regarded as normal in the past decade or so yet would probably not be regarded as extreme by most Blue Mountains canyoners. By way of an indicator of relative water flow the water flowing through the keyhole abseil in Claustral was about 15cm deep. One of the survivors of the group commented that he and the victim had previously negotiated the same obstacle in higher water conditions without
incident. The weather at the time was fine and there had been no rain that day.

Comments from the group:

The survivors, some of whom have 15 years canyoning experience, comment that ropes should not be left fixed in places where their use in high water might lead others into the moving water and potential danger. Fixed equipment tends to give the impression that "this is the way". The survivors request that fixed rope should be removed if found in this groove. There is a safe high water alternative on the other side of the canyon (on the true right).

One of the canyoners in this group with extensive experience of canyons in Europe commented that in Europe where they often experience very high water flows in canyons they never use fixed scramble lines that take you into the main stream of water.

Editor comments - CAUTION WITH MOVING WATER:

Most Blue Mountains canyon descents are completed in very low water flow conditions and consequently many canyoners do not have an awareness of swift water factors. When water flows are above "normal" canyoners should show extreme caution. Moving water often looks harmless and un-spectacular yet can still have enough force to trap a canyoner or carry them into danger. This is the second fatality due to moving water in Blue Mountains canyons in the past three years (refer to the report for 22 January 2005).



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Re: Death of experienced canyoner in Claustral - 6 Dec 2007

Post by DaveJones » 29 May 2018, 23:35

A very tragic event that was, so sad for our good mate the Knapster.

I have a story of big coincidences about this incident:

I did Claustral with Ian once and got to the spot were he died.
He said he always jumped this small drop instead of doing the rope climb down. I said don't jump because he'll hit the submerged rock and I pointed it out. He said don't worry, watch this, and of course jumped. You guessed it, he hit the exact rock I said he would, shattered his ankle, out of action for 9 months.
From then on he always did the climb down, the spot in which he died.

Years later, come the morning after the tragic accident, 10 minutes after releasing the yearly canyoning calendar (I used to edited it) word came through that had died in Claustral in that exact spot. It was in December.

The photo for December in the calendar I just released 10 minutes before not only had a photo of Claustral, but was a photo the exact spot where he died. But not only that, it was a photo of another friend of mine on the exact same rope, sitting down in the exact same position he got stuck and died in, and with water flowing over him. The photo was taken on the same trip he busted his ankle on.

Ridiculous coincidence.

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Re: Death of experienced canyoner in Claustral - 6 Dec 2007

Post by T2 » 30 May 2018, 12:17

Wow, that's an extraordinary set of coincidences. I didn't know that backstory about his ankle injury. In his mind he was taking the safer option on that fateful day. Considering how many thousands of other people have used that fixed line, he really was incredibly unlucky.

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