Fort Smith paddler describes dramatic Slave River rapids rescue Monday

Fort Smith resident Don Jaque from his Facebook page

An experienced paddler and well-known Fort Smith resident has described for CKLB exactly how a man was rescued from the trecherous Cassette Rapids on the Slave River on Thanksgiving Monday.

Don Jaque was at the scene when the man was rescued Monday night.

“He and a friend had been across the Slave River on an afternoon excursion up the smaller Dog River. They were returning back to Fitzgerald (Thebati) at the end of the day and stopped to take pictures in front of the ‘Rapids – Danger’ sign when their canoe slipped off the rocks and into the river,” Jaque said in a Facebook message to CKLB. “He, an inexperienced paddler, stripped off and swam after it and the current carried he and the boat away from shore. He was in the water about 20 minutes when he came upon a small rock island just before the main ledge at Cassette Rapids, the first of four main rapids over 26 km on the Slave River.”

Jaque says local man John Goodwin from Fort Fitzgerald (Thebati) went out in his canoe with a small kicker (outboard motor) and was able to spot the stranded canoeist and talk to him.

“But he could not get near for fear the fast currents would pull him into the rapids. So he returned and reported the status of the stranded man to the fire rescue team that were standing by. By then it was nightfall and inky dark,” Jaque stated. “Worried that the plan for a helicopter rescue would not materialize a small group of us local whitewater paddlers devised a plan to rescue him using a single person paddle raft. I found one of our group who was familiar with that part of the river and he went by kayak while the other guy went by paddle raft. It was the raft that was able to reach the rock island and rescue him. It had been about five and a half hours since the guy first jumped in the river. The guy who paddled the raft was Gord Rothne.”

The man who was rescued was taken to the local health centre in Fort Smith for treatment.

This map shows the location of the Cassette Rapids on the Slave River
(Map courtesy of Slave River White Water website)

His name hasn’t been released.

Jacque says a lot of gear was lost as well as the canoe.

He expects to go out in his kayak Wednesday to scout the shoreline.

About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.