Thursday, October 18, 2012

One Man’s Experience with Hudson River Rafting Company

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.



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Mary Thill

Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.

8 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    I am really curious why these guys would do this? It sounds like they knew it was a bad idea.

  2. Ann Melious says:

    The Hudson River Rafting Company’s bad reputation has to have a negative impact on the reputation of other, legitimate rafting companies on the river. The sooner HRRC is out of business, the better for consumers and other companies who care about safety, training and the customer experience.

  3. Guest says:

    And Cuomo wants to buy this stretch of river for millions of dollars to attract tourism to the area. Right.

  4. Adirondacker says:

    While I’m in agreement that these charges are serious and that there have been way too many problems with Cunninghams rafting operation, for a long time now, I do question why this article is running now. An affidavit to be used in a court of law should not be used as the narrative for an article. Seems like The Adirondack Almanack is trying HRRC here in the paper. The job of the paper is to report the news, not to try and influence potential jurors one way or the other. There are issues, strong ones that need to come out in court. If the paper wants to print an article based on customer problems, than actually interview the customers, don’t just take a court affidavit and repeat it. That is simply lazy journalism.

    • John Warren says:


      Although we sometimes break important news (as we did with this story), it’s my hope that Adirondack Almanack will provide context to the stories and issues you read about in newspapers. To those ends, we’ve run five stories on the issues surrounding these rafting cases, the first last spring, including interviews with the outfitter. The Adirondack Explorer will also have a full report in an upcoming issue.

      Thanks for reading,

      John Warren

    • Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

      The affidavits in the lawsuit are certainly newsworthy. They are the underpinning of the lawsuit.

    • Marlo says:

      What’s wrong with printing an affidavit? It’s a public document, and it’s certainly something that people who are curious about the case will be interested in.

  5. Marci says:

    Me and my sister were with these 2 men that day. What you need to know is we kept telling our raft guide “We cant see the ducky we need to stop.” He kept saying oh they are fine. Well we stopped for a quick break and that is when we saw the ducky float by but no people were there. Then we saw the one guy float by and he was able to get back to the raft. Our guide and a few of the rafters then got out and tried to find the other rafter on the shore. By the time our guide (Who was freaking out) decided we needed to go it was too late and the water levels were too low. So we had to get out and hike back miles through the woods. Many of the rafters were attacked by bees and the woods were very hard to get through. Our guide was at least a good half mile ahead of us. When we FINALLY made it back the person at the desk didn’t even want to issue refunds!! She was told by the owner (Cunningham) not to do so via phone. It wasn’t until they found out we had not even made it to the Hudson River that they finally gave us our money back. This company should NOT be in business. Our guide that day was more concerned about where his cigs were than us. If this company does not get shut down more people are going to get hurt and more lives will be lost.

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