Rule 4 / Case 1

Swim Test Your Gear Every Time You Go Out


Ian William Walsh - A Small Mistake Proves Fatal January 15th, 2011 - Ogwen River, Wales, UK


Kayaker on rain-swollen Ogwen River

"The river was a bit high. It wasn't a new river, we knew the lines down there. We both agreed: 'Let's get on with it'. We realized it was going to be a good trip." - Phil Davidson

A close friend described Ian William Walsh, 54, as an expert kayaker whose passion for the sport had taken him all over the world. American paddler Guy Robins, who spent time kayaking with Walsh on the rivers of the Himalayas, echoed that view, calling Walsh "an expert kayaker who played an integral part in the training of our Nepalese river guides who loved him, as well as providing kayak rescue skills for the safety of our clients".

When Walsh and long-time kayaking friend Phil Davidson arrived at the put-in, the Ogwen River was very cold and also running high due to heavy rain. According to Davidson, both men wore drysuits and PFD's, and they checked the river while changing into their gear. He noted that Walsh was a very skilled paddler. "His prowess in a kayak was phenomenal", he said.


Ian William Walsh
Ogwen River on the day of the accident

As they headed downriver, Davidson capsized several times but rolled up. At one point, he was getting knocked around a bit and when he rolled up, he saw Walsh kayaking towards him, in control of his boat, before disappearing around a bend in the river. Then Davidson capsized, failed to roll, exited his kayak, and swam to shore near the town of Braichmelyn. Shortly afterwards and 3.75 miles downriver, Samantha Lei Murphy, who had been trained in white water rescue as a member of Aberglaslyn Mountain Rescue, was walking along the river with her boyfriend. "The river was running very high", she said. "I saw a hand coming into view. I knew that it was something in the river". Her boyfriend called the police and then, putting themselves at considerable risk, the pair bravely waded into the river to try and rescue Mr Walsh. They were able to reach him and pull him to shore, but were unable to revive him. Speaking at a subsequent coroner's inquest, Davidson broke down when he testified that Walsh got into trouble because "He had not zipped his dry suit properly."


Lesson Learned This river trip was well within Walsh's skill level, and even a very brief swim test would have revealed the zipper problem and saved his life. It's customary in rock climbing for partners to check each other's harness and tie-in knots, and it should be the same with drysuits zippers, but that's a precaution that paddlers rarely take.


Major Contributing Factors


  • Unable To Recover From Capsize