Kayaker Suffers Serious Injury on Swan River

GoFundMe page says Lindsay Ashton remains in a coma following a head injury and near-drowning event on May 28

By Maggie Dresser
Lindsay Ashton. Courtesy image

A Missoula woman was life-flighted to Kalispell Regional Medical Center on May 28 following a kayaking accident on the Swan River on the Class III and IV whitewater section known as the Wild Mile, according to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.

The woman, identified as Lindsay Ashton on her GoFundMe page, was reportedly floating facedown on the Swan River near the Bigfork Inn past the Bridge Street bridge when dispatchers received a call about an unconscious paddler next to her kayak.

“Based on witness accounts, what I understand from the party that she was kayaking with is she flipped upside down in a kayak with a skirt, hit her head on a rock beneath the surface, and she floated upside down for a bit before they could get to her,” said Flathead County Sheriff Deputy Darrin Wise, who arrived at the scene after the rescue.   

The incident occurred in the evening following the first day of the Bigfork Whitewater Festival, but event organizers say Ashton was not a participant.

David Meyers, a kayaker and one of the event’s organizers, was on the scene upstream from the incident when he heard whistle blows and screams that there was a kayaker facedown in the water.

Meyers and other bystanders ran downstream to Ashton, who floated into the docks, but they were unable to retrieve her from the water as continued drifting into the Bigfork Bay where a stand-up paddle boarder brought her to shore.

Among the crowd waiting for Ashton on the riverbanks was an EMT and ER nurse who began providing medical care before Bigfork Fire Department personnel took over. She was transferred to A.L.E.R.T., an air ambulance that life-flighted her to the hospital.

Ashton was not breathing following the rescue, but providers recovered her pulse, Wise said.

Meyers said prior to the incident, Ashton had paddled the river a few times at different flow levels and had just gone through a major rapid upstream before she flipped her kayak in the outwash. After showing no signs of rolling her kayak back over, she floated into a logjam. Her party was able to extricate her from the logjam, but she slipped out of her boat downstream before they were able to retrieve her, according to the people she was with.

One of Ashton’s friends got back in their kayak in an attempt to rescue her, while the other called 911.

“No matter what safety protocols are in place, there’s always freak accidents and things happen,” Meyers said. “Those kids did everything right. You never are really quite ready for an instance like that and with high water, everything happened very quickly. It was one of the worst scenarios on the river and the situation that happened afterward was the best-case scenario what those kids did to get (her off the river).”

“I’m born and raised in Bigfork and I have thousands of runs down that river and people flip there all the time,” Meyers added. “This was a very rare occurrence that happened, but it’s something we all have in the back of our minds as kayakers … It was a very unfortunate incident.”

According to her GoFundMe page, Ashton is currently in a coma at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

Originally from Helena, Ashton lives in Missoula and spends her summers as a wildland firefighter, according to the page.  

To donate, visit gofund.me/fa1b263e.

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