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Inquest told of kayaker's River Dart death

By This is Devon  |  Posted: June 11, 2010

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A RIVER Dart kayaker described as the 'wise man of the sport' drowned when he became trapped in a rising river.

Christopher Wheeler, 45, from Reading, died at Euthanasia Falls near Poundsgate, despite all efforts by his friends and the emergency services to rescue him,

South Devon coroner Ian Arrow heard at an inquest into his death yesterday.

The chartered surveyor had travelled to the Dart for the weekend and was on his last run of three on November 22 when his kayak became trapped in branches.

It happened in heavy rain and as light faded on a stretch between Dartmeet and New Bridge, known as the 'home run'.

Mr Wheeler was described as one of the most experienced kayakers in the country.

He had 25 years experience, and had predicted the conditions that day on the River Dart.

He had kayaked all over the world and had written magazine articles about the sport.

The coroner recorded accidental death by drowning.

His friend Mark Rainsley told the inquest how he had gone down the falls after Christopher and had seen the kayak overturned.

With group members Mark Gawler and Kevin Francis, they tied ropes around the kayak to try and free it from the branches.

But Mr Wheeler was still unable to free himself from the kayak.

Mr Rainsley said: "We were against the clock, the river was rising. He couldn't free himself for whatever reason. He could not get out."

"He became very tired and he acknowledged the dangerous situation he was in and we exchanged a few words about that."

Mr Rainsley described how his friend lost consciousness and he tried to keep his head above the waves that were washing over the boat.

The rescuers managed to get him on the river bank and tried to resuscitate him for 45 minutes while a large-scale rescue operation was under way.

The police force helicopter was scrambled but unable to land because of the steep valley and trees.

Fire crews and the Dartmoor rescue team managed to reach the kayakers and recover the kayaker from the remote spot.

Investigating officer DS Mike Brewer from Newton Abbot CID told the hearing: "It is a high risk sport and unfortunately for whatever reason Chris was unable to get out of the kayak and I don't suppose that we will ever know.

"It was a tragic accident."

The coroner praised the efforts of Mr Wheeler's friends and the emergency services who came to his aid.

He said: "He was a fit man and an experienced kayaker.

"For some unknown reason his kayak became upturned. He was unable to free himself and we have heard the efforts that were made to free him.

"The level of the water was all the time rising and he eventually succumbed and he died there on the River Dart."

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