Monday, October 01, 2007

A fatal accident on the river "de Berkel"

I was seriously in doubt if I should write in this personal kayak-weblog about the tragic accident that yesterday happened on the Dutch river "de Berkel". There is no kayak or canoe involved, I am not in any way related to the people and organizations involved, I don't know anything more than the the papers and TV reported today. The easiest way would be to leave it this way, but the news really struck me. I want to share it with you, that's why I write a note about it.

For non-Dutch readers who missed the news and are not able to read the Dutch news item (click here for text and video):
Yesterday two young women died at an accident with a raft on the Dutch stream "de Berkel". De Berkel is a canalized small river that rises in Germany and crosses the Dutch border near the village of Rekken. It's no white water but a gently flowing stream. There are some concrete weirs in the Dutch part of the Berkel. A big raft with 18 women on board descended the Berkel and capsized at one of the weirs. One woman drowned at the weir, the other died a few hours later in hospital.

I want to express condolences to families and friends of the victims. Our thoughts are with them.

It's unknown why the rafters went over the weir. There are multiple and explicit warning signs on a good distance before the weir and there are ramps before and after the weir created to pass it safely by land. It's not clear if the group intendedly neglected the signs, where they unaware of the risks and just looking for some extra adventure? Or didn't they make it to the ramp and were taken by the stream down to the weir? The local authorities have started the investigations.

It sounds bizarre to have an accident like this happen in a flat country where you only can dream of white water. Actually the only serious white water playground in our country is man-made: Dutch Water Dreams. In hundreds of years every natural wild water stream in this country has been tamed (or better call it: "canalized").
It's exactly this canalization with it's many weirs that creates a potential big danger for water sports. The job of a weir is to allow the river to lose gradient and energy at one spot. Most weirs in Dutch rivers are made of concrete and metal, have a very steep ramp and are closed in at both ends by the river banks. Water flowing over such a weir has a lot more energy than in a natural situation. Even small weirs can create "stoppers" (a paddlers' term for a reverse flow of water) of the dangerous sort: full-depth stoppers with a powerful towback that is very likely to hold a swimmer.
It's very sad we are reminded in this cruel way about these risks.


bonnie said...

It's hard writing about things like that, extracting the relevant lessons without somehow condemning the people involved.

I thought you did a good job. I hope it reaches people.

Hans said...

Thanks Bonnie!