Scott Richards

April 22, 1999 Icicle Creek, Washington.

By Michelle Partridge of the Oregonian Newspaper

LEAVENWORTH -- The group of nine veteran kayakers knew their individual skill levels when they put into the Icicle Creek just below Bridge Creek Campground on Friday.

Some started partway through the particularly tricky rapid, knowing that the top part was more dangerous. A few started at the very top, confident that they could maneuver the rocks and logs in the narrow gap. One didn't make it to the bottom.

The body of Scott R. Richards, 36, a Chelan County PUD engineer who moved from Pennsylvania to Wenatchee in January, was recovered from the river Saturday afternoon as his newfound friends looked on in horror. "We were just a bunch of friends getting together," said kayaker Brian Behle of Cashmere. "But stuff happens out there that you can't control." Behle said none of the others had ever kayaked with Richards before. But Richards was a member of the American Whitewater Association and had kayaked extensively in Pennsylvania.

Behle had climbed rocks with Richards last year and considered him to be conservative in his risk taking. So he wasn't concerned when Richards, who had never kayaked on the Icicle Creek before, joined two other kayakers at the very top of the stretch known as the Bridge Creek rapid. "He said he was real comfortable with the rapid," Behle said. "He said he'd done other rapids similar to that."

But shortly after they entered the water, Richards and another kayaker ran into trouble in an area where a log was pinned against a rock, just a few hundred feet down river from the campground. As the first kayaker was fighting to get his boat free from the strong current, Richards lost control and his boat ended up on top of the other one and then turned over, pinned against the rocks with one end pointing straight up, recalled kayaker Pat Lynch of Cashmere. Richards was completely submerged in the icy water.

The first kayaker was able to get out of his kayak, and Lynch, who had abandoned his own craft to help the others, attempted to free Richards. When he couldn't budge the kayaks, he reached under water into the cockpit of Richards' kayak and discovered that it was empty.

"We never saw him again," he said.

Behle said everyone knew that the boulder sieve was dangerous, but said it looked deceptively easy to avoid. "What we didn't know was that it was undercut," he said. "There was a lot more current going into it than it appeared. It was at an area of the rapids where you had to paddle hard from one side of the river to the other. There was also the piece of wood, which is always bad. "He just happened to end up in a place where he didn't want to be," he added.

The kayakers were joined by Chelan County sheriff's deputies, Leavenworth firefighters and white-water rescue volunteers in their search for Richards. But the search had to be called off after dark Friday. It resumed Saturday morning, with rescuers using a winch to move the log where Richards disappeared to find and free his body.

Richards had no family in the Wenatchee area. His parents were expected to arrive in Wenatchee late Sunday.

The other kayakers were identified by the Sheriff's Office as Carl Schill and Jeremy Tritt, both of Wenatchee; Jason Carver, Brandon Freeland and Sarah Alm, all of Cashmere; Robert Pfannenstiel of Ellensburg; and Grant Weidenbach of Klamath Falls, Ore.

Behle said all but three of the kayakers had already run the Icicle Creek a few times this year. He said they never go through the Bridge Creek rapid in high water, but they didn't consider the rapid to be overly dangerous on Friday. After investigating the accident, Chelan County sheriff's deputy Matt Fields stressed, "I don't want to imply in any way that these people were doing anything reckless."