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Sam Milne is head coach at Canterbury Kayaking on New Zealand's South Island. In his own words he describes how his FastFind PLB was used after coming across a seriously injured fellow kayaker on thr Styx river near Hokitika.

"Some interesting events took place yesterday while on a personal kayak trip which resulted in an emergency situation and evacuation via S&R helicopter. After running a "Discover Multisport" course on Saturday morning, I set off for Hokitika Saturday evening. Conditions were looking great for whitewater kayaking Monday and Tuesday over there, with plenty of fresh rain over the last few days, and fine weather coming. The rivers would be prime for paddling and I had friends I would meet there to paddle with.

Conditions were so good, we planned to get 2 runs in on Monday. So with 5 companions we began walking our kayaks up the tramping track alongside the Styx River (a class 3-5 creek depending how far up you walk). We had mixed abilities in the group, so after approximately 2 hours of slow walking, everyone had made it to their chosen put-in points.

Brad, Andrew, and Myself set off near the top of the run, making it down without incident to collect Megan and Tom who were waiting further downstream, where the river eases somewhat. After some more exciting paddling, we meet with Cam, the final member of our group. The team was now complete and only a short stretch of class 2-3 was between us, and where we had parked our 4WDs this morning.

The river was high, so paddling as pairs made sense as keeping as one big group would have been difficult. We approached the last small rapid before the take-out and I proceeded to lead Tom down the best line to the truck.

Rescue Location
Rescue Product UsedFastfind 211 PLB


Just as I was about to get out of my kayak, I looked upstream to see Cam's kayak full of water float around the corner and down through the last rapid completely unaccompanied! As I paddled across to intercept it, I saw Brad (one of the stronger team members) moving along the bank out of his kayak. I knew something was wrong.

Cams boat wedged on a rock, I walked up the bank river left (opposite side to the trucks) to see Andrew sitting on a rock, nursing his right arm. Brad asked me if I knew much about shoulders, and at this point, I really wished I did.

A shoulder dislocation is one of the most common serious injuries in kayaking. I knew what to look for. There was a hollow step in his shoulder (where it would normally be round) and was bulging forward). I applied some traction (pulling the arm down slightly) in the hope it might find it's way back in, but by this time things had stiffened up and it wasn't going to move.

Earlier, Cam had capsized and was failing to roll back up. Andy sprinted to him, and while attempting to "barrel roll" him back upright from his kayak, the shoulder gave out and Cam swam to the side.

15 mins after the dislocation, I sent Brad out in his 4WD to find reception and call 111. Cam and Tom went to my Truck for more supplies ,while Megan prepared a cocoon to keep him warm.

I considered our options. The truck was temptingly close, we could see it just around the corner. But the river was waist deep and swift. Getting him across safely seemed difficult, and with any small movement causing excruciating pain, both this attempt and then the rough drive out, would have been unbearable and dangerous. I knew the longer we waited, the harder it would be to relocate. So after approximately 20mins since the injury, I tried again to relocate it for him. Externally rotating the limb very slowly with traction on, and a sling around Andy's shoulder girdle. I could feel it had stiffened up, and I knew it hurt more with every movement. I realised that with my limited training and experience, and the time that had passed. The shoulder would be like this until he reached hospital.

While Megan put a triangular bandage on Andy, Cam and Tom had returned with supplies to keep him warm, and some insect repellent to keep the bugs off. I took the foam hip pads out of Andy's boat, and duct taped them together to make a nice square wedge for under his arm. Then taped around his arm and torso to stop things from moving.

At this time Brad had meet with the ambulance on the main road, who realised he was across the river and would not proceed.

Garden City Helicopters where just finishing another job removing some trampers from Arthur's Pass when they got the call to move in.

Meanwhile I was still up the river and had not heard from Brad. If we could get the shoulder back in we could get him across the river. But 40mins had passed since it happened, so this opportunity had been and gone.

I activated my Fastfind Emergency Personal Locator Beacon. We needed a chopper.

Garden City Helicopters picked up the signal and homed on in. Reaching Andrew after 1h:50m of agony from when he first dislocated it. Luckly there was a nice place to land right next to us.

Once in Greymouth hospital, Andrew was in happy land while the doctor relocated the joint. It will be several weeks before he can use his arm, several months before he may be able to kayak again.

Some great lessons learned. I know if this or something similar happened again, we could deal with this even better. Look after each other out there, and beware of the "easier" sections where most accidents seem to happen."

Sam Milne
Head Coach/Owner
Canterbury Kayaking

Multisport & Whitewater Kayak School