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Tragedy on Robe Canyon of the South Fork Stillaguamish River

Published on 1/6/2015
By Dave Blanchet, Engle family friend who know Xavier since childhood
On November 30, 2014, renowned kayaker and third year UW medical student Xavier Engle was killed in a tragic kayaking accident in the Robe Canyon of the Stillaguamish River. Engle was known for not only his world class kayaking skills, but also for his varied academic and medical pursuits, his humility and care for the less fortunate, and his intense zest for life. Engle touched deeply the lives of many who knew him.

Engle and two companions, Brad Xanthopolous and Evan Bouchier, began their trek through the Class V to V+ canyon at mid-day on that chilly Sunday. All three had run the canyon many tens of times previously, and were intimately familiar with it. Although flows were up that day from previous rains, all three had made the run at significantly higher water levels.

Troubles started for Engle on “T1” the first major drop in the canyon. Here he flipped, and unable to execute a successful roll, was carried further down canyon over "T2" the second drop. In the hydraulic at the base of T2, Engle's boat tangled with Xanthopolous', and both kayakers were forced to leave their boats and swim for their lives. Xanthopolous managed to grasp on to the steep shore on the left and pull himself out of the water, while Engle was carried to the right further downstream through continuous whitewater and over several major drops. Bouchier, remaining in his kayak, made several rescue attempts and contact with Engle, but was thwarted again and again by the turbulent waters. When he finally got Engle to the shore, he was unable to revive him with CPR. Engle’s death was likely a combination of hypothermia, drowning, and trauma on a later drop.

Engle’s death reminds us of the dangers inherent to whitewater, even for highly skilled boaters. He will be sorely missed.

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