Tomorrow there will be a hearing in Hamilton County Supreme Court (convening in Fulton County, in Johnstown) as the New York State Attorney General’s Office seeks a formal court order requiring Hudson River Rafting Company to cease operations until a list of safety concerns can be addressed.
As one of the company’s guides remains jailed on a charge of criminally negligent homicide in the death of a customer who drowned last month, Hudson River Rafting Company and its owner Patrick Cunningham also face a Hamilton County District Attorney motion to reinstate two 2010 charges of reckless endangerment. The DA argues that Cunningham violated the terms of a dismissal agreement by sending passengers down the wilderness whitewater of the upper Hudson River this summer in unguided boats.
Following are verbatim excerpts from one affidavit, an account by Richard Belson, from Pennsylvania, who says Hudson River Rafting Company launched him and a friend in an unguided inflatable kayak even though they had no paddling experience. To read the full affidavit, click here.
On August 26, 2012, I along with my two friends went to the Hudson River Rafting Company to go on a guided white water rafting tour. … When we arrived that morning, we were initially told by the counter attendant that they were booked full and they had no spots available for us. As we were walking out, a guide… said we could go down in a “ducky”. He indicated that two of us could go down in the “ducky” and the third could squeeze into his raft. We later found out that a “ducky” was a two person inflatable kayak with no guide. When we asked how it would be on the water, he indicated that it would be fine and that we would have more fun in that than we would in a raft. …
The woman behind the counter asked us if we had any paddling experience. [My friend] Matthew Vivian and I both responded “No”. … As we were leaving, [the counter attendant] instructed us that if we fell out of the “ducky” to keep our feet up and float on our backs until we reached calmer water. There were absolutely no instructions on how to navigate the “ducky,” what safety precautions to take, or what to do in the event we became separated from the “ducky” or the rest of the group while on the water.
Immediately upon entering the current, it became clear to Matthew and I that we would not be able to control the “ducky”. We were constantly spinning out of control in strong rapids and were unable to keep the “ducky” facing down river. After the first five minutes on the water, the “ducky” capsized and we both ended up in the current. After a few minutes, we floated to calmer water where we were able to retrieve the “ducky” and get back in. At that point, we had lost all visual contact with both rafts from the Hudson River Rafting Company. They apparently travelled down river while we were retrieving the “ducky”.
After we got back in the “ducky”, we continued to have difficulty controlling the ducky in the rapids. It took approximately ten minutes before we lost complete control of the “ducky” and capsized it again. However, this time we were in much rougher area of the river with much more intense rapids. As a result, the “ducky” was swept away from us almost immediately. Matt and I tried to stay close to each other, but the current made that impossible and we began to separate. I began hitting rock after rock in the rapids and suffered significant bruising and cuts to my legs. At one point I was dragged under the water by the current and had great difficulty getting back to the surface as the current pushed me back down every time I tried to reach the surface to breath[e]. I finally found an area in the current where I could stop myself and gain a foothold. Matthew was unable to do the same, and kept going down river in rapids until I lost sight of him.
Eventually I was able to reach a rock on the shore and sat there for about a half hour recovering from the experience and trying to figure out what I should do next in order to get out of where I was and to locate Matthew. We had been given no instructions on what to do if we became separated from our ducky or the group. I finally decided that given my isolated location and the fact that the group may not know that we lost the “ducky”, it could be hours before anyone got to me even or even realized I was missing. … I decided to make my way back to the initial entry point. After hiking through the woods (and the river in some places) for about three and a half hours, I located [one guide’s] rafting group and Matthew, who were walking back upstream. I found out later that after I lost sight of Matthew, he floated down stream and found the group on the river bank and that their raft ended up stranded after the water levels became too low for them to continue so they started to hike back.
We all hiked together to a road and eventually made our way back to the Hudson River Rafting Company headquarters. All the other passengers in the raft and my friends and I demanded a full refund due to our poor experience. After arguing with the counter attendant for approximately an hour, we finally received a full refund.