Death in Empress Canyon - 22 Jan 2005

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T2
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Death in Empress Canyon - 22 Jan 2005

Post by T2 » 28 May 2018, 12:18

Reproduced from the old Australian Accident Register:

A 32 year old male canyoner, Matthew Donovan, died in swirling floodwaters in the second last pool of Empress Falls Canyon. A severe thunderstorm had just hit the surrounding area which dumped a lot of rain and hail that caused all watercourses in the area to flood rapidly. The man was with six others who were approaching the main abseil above Empress Falls proper when the rising waters overtook the group. The other people managed to reach the relative safety of the abseil bolts (on the left side facing downstream). When Donovan tried to follow he became trapped in a pool of swirling water. It seems likely that he drowned after being held under water for some time.
The back wall of the second last pool before the falls overhangs steeply and below water level it also slopes away steeply. In high water, and because of the way water enters the pool it creates a nasty situation where all surface water moves to the back of the pool and due to the overhanging back wall it's impossible to push off to escape. There has been at least one other near miss at this spot in recent years in high water. At low or medium water levels the pool looks very innocuous. The other canyoners survived the ordeal with some minor injuries.



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Re: Death in Empress Canyon - 22 Jan 2005

Post by DaveJones » 29 May 2018, 23:22

I remember this incident vividly, as many people thought it was me who died in that canyon that day.
I was the same age that was reported on the news, and everyone knew I was supposed to be organising a big group into Empress that afternoon as I have planned it and announced it on the forum a month before.

But we were walking out of the Castle Head abseil trip that afternoon planning to continue onto Empress, but on the ridge top saw the massive storm front coming through, so we cancelled right then and there. The streets of Katoomba were a foot deep in flash flood water, and hail piled up like snow. Crazy day.

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Re: Death in Empress Canyon - 22 Jan 2005

Post by T2 » 30 May 2018, 12:20

Wow. You were so lucky. Imagine if you'd made an earlier start on Castle Head or finished it earlier. Knowing how quickly those big storms can roll through, it's highly unlikely you'd have known it was coming until too late. One of the general pieces of advice about reducing the risk of being caught by flash floods is to go through earlier in the day, as storms are more likely in the afternoon. For a canyon like Empress, where recreational canyoners are advised to go in the afternoon to avoid commercial groups, it means there is naturally a higher risk.

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