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Steamboat Springs’ Kevin Dombey Talks About Nearly Drowning

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5280 associate editor Patrick Doyle chatted with Dombey about his near-death experience.

It was late spring, 2008. Five of us were paddling kayaks on the Spencer Heights stretch of the Poudre River. Near the bottom, my friend Nick and I decided to read and run the river, which is pretty common for us in that kind of water. I was following right behind him, so my view was obstructed. He charged up over a log, but I couldn’t see it, and my bow went under the log, pinning me.

I knew immediately I was in trouble. I tried to slide out of the boat, but the current was pinning my legs. I was holding onto the log to keep my head above the water. The guys threw me some ropes, but I still couldn’t get out. My energy was quickly being sapped because the water was so cold. I was losing my strength and starting to lose hope.

I could see the fear in Nick’s eyes. He got the guys to pick up the log enough that I could get under it. I freed myself from the boat, but I missed the ropes they threw out. I was floating next to the log, just exhausted. I finally caught a rope with one hand. It took all my strength to hold onto it, and they swung me onto shore and I just collapsed.

Then we realized we were on the wrong side of the river from the road, so I had to get back in a boat and paddle across the river. One guy went to flag down a car. The driver and my friends stripped me, cranked up the heat in the car, and fed me. My legs were pretty bruised up, but otherwise I was fine. It’s a testament to being with a well-trained group. If I had been with an inexperienced crew, I wouldn’t have survived.

Nick Wigston, of
Downstream Edge, a paddling and river safety school, looks back on the kayakers’ rescue tactics.

What they did right

What they did wrong

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