Stream Crossing Death
(accident report, Auyuittuq National Park, Canada)

16 Jul 2004 - by Ed Lulofs

This report is an excerpt from Ed's website, which used to be at:
(that website went missing in 2007)

A few selected pictures (click to enlarge), many more are in the original report:

Analysis of Accident: What knowledge and techniques will help prevent future accidents?

  1. Before stepping into the water: practice several times: pretend that I am falling in the water and discard my pack.

  2. When someone falls in the stream, shout: drop your pack.

  3. Don't hurry in the wilderness; patience, think!

  4. Follow the known rules for stream crossing.

  5. Don't carry your boots around your neck.

  6. Look for crossings away from a long rapids.

Accident Report Form submitted to Accidents in North American Mountaineering

  1. Report submitted by Ed Lulofs, 1195-4 W Calle De Las Estrellas, Azusa, CA 91702, I was there.

  2. Date of Accident: July 16, 2004

  3. Geographic Location: Rundle glacier outwash stream, Owl River, Baffin Island, Auyuittuq National Park, Canada's Nunavut.

  4. Names (or use a number) and ages of person directly involved:
    • Del Hildebrand Age: 61
    • Ed Lulofs Age: 51

  5. Total Number of Persons in Party or Class: 2

  6. Details of the Accident: Lost footing crossing fast icy stream with heavy pack. Failed to discard pack in the water. Dragged through 1/2 km of rapids. CPR failed to revive. Probable drowning, possible concussion or broken neck.

  7. Experience Level: [ ] none or little ( 1st year) [X] moderate (1-3 years) [ ] experienced [ ] other

  8. Narrative Description of Accident (use extra sheet if necessary):

    It started to rain about 4AM. Del woke at 5AM and saw that the group near us had crossed the stream. He liked to hike in the rain. He had finished, the day before, the paperback book that he had brought and so had nothing to do or read while waiting. He was the trip leader and decided to try to cross. I hurriedly packed up. There were smaller stream crossing of 1/2 km before we reached the main stream, and as always, he was several hundred meters ahead of me. Not a good idea. He was pacing up and down the main channel looking for the best place to cross for the 5 minutes that it took me to catch up to him. Finally he picked a spot. He HAD his pack unbuckled. After he was a few steps out into the stream and I could see that it was difficult for him and that there was a good chance of him falling, I took off my pack and put it down on the gravel bar. He had one foot on the other shore-I thought that he had made it, then he fell in and was washed the 10 meters downstream and back to my side of the stream. I helped him get up. Water was dripping from his pack. I suggested that we camp and dry out. He didn't want to spend a third night at this site. Del had only brought one hiking pole. I handed him one of mine and told him to throw it back to me after he crossed. This had worked for me in the Yukon. He was concerned about losing it and handed it back to me. He violated another rule and went back to the same place to try to cross again. Now my memories become less clear as things started happening fast. I think that he only made it halfway across this second time. He fell down, was washed the 10 meters back to near where I was, got a grip on the river bed while on his hands and knees. He was only there for seconds and then he was carried downstream again. I remember him looking very surprised. He was only carried 10 meters when he started tumbling head over heals backwards.

    With two poles and without my pack, I was just barely able to cross. Not crossing was not an option as all of the little streams that we had just previously crossed had merged into an obviously uncrossable stream just downstream from our position on the gravel bar. I hurried downstream as fast as I could watching for him - hoping he was clinging to a rock. After 1/2 km-it must have taken me 10 minutes to get there, I saw his pack, praying that he wasn't with it. I was near panic now. I recall ignoring rapids and stepping in chest deep holes in the stream to reach him.

    I found him in about six inches of water. The current had stripped off most of his clothes. He still had one arm through his pack strap! I don't specifically have a memory of his face in the water, but it must have been as I wanted to get him out of the water. I grabbed his arm and started pulling him toward shallow water. But with the pack still attached, the current pulled him out of my grasp and he was going downstream again. I decided that I couldn't get him out of the water by myself. Later I calculated that his pack could weight 200 pounds filled with water, and he was 6 foot tall and so almost 200 pounds. I couldn't do anything with 300-400 pounds in the water. Couldn't even roll him over because of his pack.

    There was an emergency shelter with a radio nearby, so I ran the 200 meters over to it. I saw three packs in front and started calling for help. Ian, Dene, & Jordon who had crossed earlier were inside. Ian put Jordon on the radio and sat phone to call for help. Ian, Dene, & I ran back to help Del. Del had always carried his boots tied together over his neck when we were wearing our water sandals. The boots were twisted about his neck. My knife was in my pack 1/2 km upstream. Ian cut the boots off. We separated Del from his pack. Ian wanted to start CPR there in the 6 inch flowing icy water, I wanted him taken to shore. We compromised and carried him to the gravel bar. This is the first time that I looked at my watch and it was 7:04AM. I instructed Ian and Dene to assist me with CPR for 40-50 minutes while we were kneeling on gravel with water trickling through. My knees are still healing from being rubbed raw while kneeling on the gravel. Then we carried Del to the stream bank where Ian and I worked for about 30 minutes until I was becoming hypothermic. We then all stayed in the emergency shelter until the helicopter evacuated us.

    What we didn't know until after the accident was that the other group, Ian, Dene, and Jordon, had crossed went at 4AM, nearly 3 hours before we attempted it, and crossed together as a group whereas Del attempted to cross by himself.

  9. Analysis of Accident: What knowledge and techniques will help prevent future accidents?
    • Before stepping into the water: practice several times: pretend that I am falling in the water and discard my pack.

    • When someone falls in the stream, shout: drop your pack.

    • Don't hurry in the wilderness; patience, think!

    • Follow the known rules for stream crossing.

    • Don't carry your boots around your neck.

    • Look for crossings away from a long rapids.

  10. Additional Comments:

    Del was an intelligent, experienced backpacker in excellent condition. Impatience and not discarding his pack caused his death. Icy water should have helped the CPR to revive him. I suspect he also had a concussion and/or broken neck.

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