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Luca RIP

Discussion in 'Accidents and Near Misses' started by Ram, Aug 13, 2017.

  1. Ram

    Ram

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    The particular forum has been way too busy this year.
    Condolences to all that loved and cared for him

    http://canyoncollective.com/members/luca.328/

    https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/13165/

    Date: 2017-08-03
    Victim: Luca Chiarabini
    Victim Age: 47
    River: Kings
    Reach #:
    Kings [CA]
    1. Middle, S. Fork confluence to Garnet Dike Campground V
    med

    06h26m
    [detail]
    Section: 1. Middle, S. Fork confluence to Garnet Dike Campground
    Location: Pool and first rapid at the confluence of the Middle and SF Kings
    Gauge: 2900 cfs
    Water Level: Medium
    River Difficulty: IV
    Cause Code(s): Equipment Trap
    Age: 47
    Experienced/Inexperienced: Extensive Experience
    Private/Commercial: Private
    Boat Type: Other
    Group Info: 3 people in group


    Detailed Description:
    Luca Chiarabini was one of California's most prolific and most loved canyoneers. He was a mentor to many and had canyoneering partners through out California and the world. Luca also belonged to the San Bernardino Cave and Vertical Rescue Team.

    On Wednesday August 2, 2017, Luca and two partners hiked down the Yucca Point trail to the Kings River. Their plan was to canyoneer a creek on the north side of the river. They had brought ropes and wetsuits for the canyon and flippers for the river crossing, but no boats or lifejackets.

    They crossed the main river to the north side right at the confluence. The main current at that point pushes against a large granite ledge on the south shore (river left). They were able to leap off this ledge, bypass a big part of the main current and swim the rest of the way across the river. Rick estimated that the river was about 100 feet across at this point. The flow was approximately 2600 cfs which is a moderate flow for the class 3 and 4 rapids in the immediate area, but is high flow for the class 5 rapids downstream.

    Once across the river they scrambled up the north wall of the canyon, worked their way into the Deer Creek canyon. They downclimbed and rappelled down Deer Creek back to the Middle Fork Kings. They then worked their way along the middle fork back to the confluence.

    They got back to the confluence at night and slept on the north side.

    In the morning, Thursday August 3, 2017 the river was flowing at approximately 2900 cfs, but the difference in flow was not visible to them.

    Their thoughts were for one person to swim across the river with a rope to then help the other two get across. Rick tried it first. He wore his wetsuit and flippers and a harness with the rope tied to the front of the harness. They anchored and belayed the rope from upstream. Rick swam out about halfway before the current got too strong and he realized he could not get to the south shore. He signalled and his partners pulled on the rope to bring him back across the river.

    They discussed what to try next and Luca offered that he might be able to make it across. Luca tied into the rope and swam out. He did make it further, about 2/3rds of the way, before he signalled that he wanted to be pulled back. However, because of the current dragging on the rope, they had fed out a lot of rope to keep it loose on Luca. They could not pull the rope in fast enough to keep Luca from being swept into the downstream rapid. Once into the rapid the rope went taught and Luca was trapped. He may have been using a releasable knot, but was not able to release it under the preasure of the current. Luca quickly lost strength and was not able to catch ropes thrown from shore. The partners cut the rope holding Luca and he floated downstream. However the free rope soon caught on rocks and held Luca underwater. His body was freed by rescue personel later in the day.

    The two remaining partners had a rescue beacon and activated it at about 9:50 am. The Fresno County sheriff's helicopter and a highway patrol helicopter both responded and quickly spotted Luca's body in the river. Ground based search and Rescue personel arrived and were eventually able to retrieve the body in the late afternoon. The remaining 2 members of the trip were airlifted to the highway above

    ------------------------

    Initial analysis: Being tied into a rope in whitewater is clearly a grave danger. It is worth questioning why tying into a rope seemed reasonable to 3 pretty experienced individuals. In this situation, anchoring the rope was equally dangerous.

    Canyoneers often rappel on ropes in waterfalls into pools and have developed techniques to quickly release the rope. There are also a number of well known canyons that exit onto rivers where the canyoneers rig ropes to help their team members cross those rivers. Luca and the other team members had these experiences. They likely had not tested these techniques on a river that was 100 feet wide and which had nearly 3000 cfs. What seems also likely is that they had not practiced swimming rapids or swimming rapids while trailing a rope. If they had been more familiar with swimming rapids it seems likely that they would have assessed the danger of swimming the next rapid as being much safer than tying into a rope.

    In this case the rope was intended as a safety feature, to pull the swimmer back if necessary and to pull the others across. This is a common mistake where we think that more gear makes us more safe. In this case, the current pulling on the rope behind the swimmer prevented them from getting all the way across the current.

    Anchoring the rope was equally dangerous but probably seemed equally sensible to the team. If the rope had not been anchored, the belayer could have run inland away from the edge of the river and had a much greater chance of penduluming the swimmer into shore. Also when the forces on a body belay become extreme, you know that the forces on the swimmer are equally extreme and unsustainable. Anchoring the rope allowed very high forces to build on the swimmer.

    A third problem was that Luca tied the rope to the standard front tie in point on his harness. When the rope came taught the current pushed straight into his face. Rescue lifejackets always have a tie in at the back so that the swimmers face is downstream when the rope is tight. There can be an air pocket formed by the swimmers head and the swimmer has a greater chance of breathing.

    They could have all launched into the river individually and swam as hard as they could for the other shore. Given that they were all wearing wetsuits with a fair bit of floatation and the rapid just below is moderate, they probably could have made it across with only a few bumps. If they had brought lifejackets, boogy boards or river boards and flippers they could have made it across more confidently.

    River runners or river crossers do at times have good reasons for trying to set up a rope across a river. The amount of drag that the river current can put on any normal size rope makes it very dangerous, whether using a raft, kayak or swimming. The first rope across needs to float and to have minimal resistance to the water. Very thin line like fly fishing line might work well. The thin line can then be used to bring across heavier line. People who engage in roped river crossings should experiment by crossing with and without different types of ropes to see what the differences are.



    Report Status: Reported
  2. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    Sad.

    Rescue lifejackets always have a tie in at the back so that the swimmers face is downstream when the rope is tight.

    This isn't a criticism, but an observation. 20-35 years ago, life jackets used to be a common sight in canyons. It's seems that many people wore them in canyons such as Subway, Death Hollow, Lower Black Box, Upper Black Box, Black Hole, Lower Kolob, etc., and almost always to cross any river.

    It seems that now days, almost no one wears them in canyons (or at least as far as I have seen). Many more people wear wetsuits than in the past (and they certainly provide much more cold water protection than a life jacket), but they don't provide nearly as much flotation as a life jacket.

    I assume the main reason canyoneers don't wear them anymore is because of the bulkiness?
  3. willie92708

    willie92708

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    Being there first hand, and having collected all the needed data from Rick and other experts reviewing the situation (except I'm still waiting for some data from the SAR personal), I can say that the story as reported here is a bit twisted. First off, the reason for the first swimmer to swim with a rope in tow is so that everyone else, all the packs, gear and ropes can be ferried across with ease and relative safety. The reason Luca choose to swim without a PFD is because it significantly slows swim speed. We all had PFD's available if we had chose to use them. Swimming with the pack was out of the question as that would slow swim speed far too much. Given the river flow, speed and the fact that most of the water was channeled into about 60 feet of width, reeling the swimmer "in" if the swim was not successful was not the plan, only that when the rope comes tight, the swimmer can pendulum back to the same shore as the anchor point. That is unless the rope gets caught on boulder(s) in the river, which is what happened to Luca. Then it's up to the swimmer to disconnect.
    Ram, Kevin and Dan Ransom like this.
  4. Dan Ransom

    Dan Ransom Staff Member

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    Thanks for posting Willie. How does the swimmer disconnect from the rope in this case? Some sort of releasable knot? With a whitewater PFD, you have a releasable harness that has a tie in point on your back, and the entire thing is released with a simple pull of the toggle.

    Would it make sense to carry in one whitewater capable packraft for these types of scenarios?
  5. Dan Ransom

    Dan Ransom Staff Member

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    Certainly bulk is part of it, it is also uncomfortable to carry a pack while wearing a PFD. That said, we wear them sometimes in the Grand Canyon, since you generally need them to packraft back across anyways. They are also much warmer on your core, and give you floatation to keep from getting water down your neck as well. Folks sometimes wear them in the Black Hole at Freezefest for the same reason.
  6. willie92708

    willie92708

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    Well, as I have learned since even the day of tragedy, there are many ways, most of which are likely to fail. You have to understand that I am just learning white water skills, and this was communicated to both Rick and Luca before the trip. In fact, the evening before we successfully crossed the Kings River on Wednesday Aug 2nd, I told Luca to his face "I'm a noob at swift water". So going into this trip, I did not know to ask Luca about rope disconnects, and he seemed to have it under control with some sort of releasable knot, and his river knife as a backup. It was my assumption that he had this well under control, since he had done many of such river crossings in the past.

    As it turned out when we tried to cross back over the Kings on Thursday morning, Luca was not able to disconnect. I could not throw the "throw rope" far enough to him, he could not have grabbed it anyway because he was barely able to get his head above water for more than a second at a time, and we could not pull him back to shore because the rope was caught around submerged boulder(s) well out in the river. Our only expedient option was to release the anchor end of the rope, which Rick did, but that was doomed to fail, because the 440 feet of rope just got tangled around more boulders and pinned Luca underwater just another 500 feet down river.

    Yes, as you stated and I learned that day, any rescue PFD has an releasable belt (see pic1), and the rope is tied to the belt, not a seat harness or directly around the body. We did not have rescue PFD's with such belts, nor did we just have the belts which can be purchase separately (I now own 2 of them). I read later on one site that using a Munter hitch with a second chance Mule knot is an option. I'm not sure how well a Munter hitch with Mule knot will work, because when I crossed on Tuesday on a pendulum line with the rope end rigged for maximum friction in my rappel device, mule tie off, and the extra 10 feet of rope butterflied under my waist belt, I was in the water like 30 seconds and the mule had ripped out and the butterfly of rope had turned into a mess and jammed my rappel device. I'm still waiting on info from the SAR people on how the rope was connected to his harness. Rick mentioned he may have used a figure 8 on a bight clipped to a non-locking biner, which of course is not releasable under even modest loading. If I had known the night before, I would have suggested that we take the snap shackle (see pic2) that I had in my truck, which could be easily rigged with a pull cord and some sort of ball to make it easy to grab. And as mentioned already, having the "tie in" point on the back, not the front, makes breathing much more likely once the rope comes tight. Luca was tied into the front of his seat harness. Also, I learned from a SAR personal on scene that using a knife to cut the rope in swift water is extremely difficult, and thus likely to fail.

    Willie

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  7. willie92708

    willie92708

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    Luca had his packraft with him in the car at the trailhead, but once looking down on the river from 1000 feet above decided it was not usable because the river was flowing too fast.

    Willie
  8. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Very sad news indeed. My condolences, thoughts and prayers for family and friends.

    I met Luca in 2014 when he joined a vertical caving trip that I was leading during the NSS Convention in Huntsville, AL. He and a few partners from San Diego signed up for what would be a splendid, yet uneventful trip. This particular cave has a 137' entrance pit which becomes a bottleneck when exiting with a large group. During the wait, Luca regaled the crowd with SAR, canyoning, and caving tales of adventure. He certainly helped pass the time as we waited on everyone to safely ascend out.

    What really sticks out in my mind from that day was not his stories though, but rather a note he left on my truck expressing gratitude for leading the trip. A nice person, an unexpected and class act!

    WE.JPG
    Though the heavens teem with stars, they will surely appear brighter than they did before.
    jesseahouser, AW~ and Jolly Green like this.
  9. Rick Demarest

    Rick Demarest

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    I was looking forward to more information about this incident. I had a rudimentary idea of what occurred and the reasons for Luca's drowning as I spoke with someone close to him the evening it happened (possibly the next evening). I've been a whitewater river runner for over 35 years, owned a river company in n. california and taught river skills including rescue. I spent most of the 80's with a group of kayakers/rafters exploring some pretty marginal Class 4 & 5 rivers in the mountains of California. I made some great friends - and we lost a few along the way. I hope what I have to say will be taken in the context of learning and not in any way blame. We all make mistakes. Most of the time we get away with them and can learn through experience. Sometimes, as in this case, the outcome is a tragedy. Everyone who looks at what happened and reads the various reports will have to decide what the lessons are for themselves.

    So, here goes - from this and my own experience:
    The combination of ropes and rivers scare the hell out of me. The ONLY time a rope should be attached to someone is with a rescue vest AND if that person has the skill to understand its use. A rescue vest has a very limited purpose, the main one being able to perform a live bait rescue. Not something most folks will ever have to or want to do. There is no "releasable" knot that will do so if something goes south in whitewater conditions.

    Never, ever enter swiftwater (current) without a pfd. Rivers aren't pools. They have a vertical component that isn't readily obvious. Oh, and rocks - lots of rocks. And yes, I've personally tested this out - positive outcome only because of some good friends.

    Do not think that because you carry a knife or other gear that it will save you if something goes wrong. Try to mitigate the need to rely on safety gear before entering into a situation that requires such gear - including calling off whatever you are attempting.

    If you're going to be doing "serious" Class C canyons take a professional whitewater safety/rescue class. Hell, take one anyway - great fun. If nothing else the class will teach you just how much power there is in moving water.

    Never be afraid to say NO. Many times I'm glad either I or some other member of a group said: "I don't feel comfortable with this situation" or "I don't have the necessary skills". We either mitigated the issue or walked away.

    Especially when doing an exploratory or unfamiliar route or with a group that hasn't been together before, discuss the plan - everyone has a voice - agree or go home.

    Our playgrounds can be dangerous. Safe journey everyone...
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2017
    Mike Zampino, Ram, Stevee B and 9 others like this.
  10. willie92708

    willie92708

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    Even though I'm just learning this stuff and only know a few basic swift water rules now (all learned since), I feel like you are preaching to the choir, and I'm the choir! WOW! If only I had known some of this before the trip. And fate would have it that the swift water class that I was planning to take last month was postponed until later this month because the Kern River was flowing too much to safely run the class. If only I'd known enough to "just say no". We had plenty of canyons to check out in the area that did not require crossing the Kings River. What else can I say except you are absolutely spot on target with what you say.

    Willie
  11. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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    Dang - tragic loss! My heart goes out to family and friends impacted by this loss.

    As per Rick's comments - ropes and moving water scare the heck of me as well & my comments are purely for the betterment and safety of this community and I am guilty as well with many a mistake that should have cost me dearly and did not.

    Coming from a surf and lifeguard perspective, we do a couple things to protect against being trapped by ropes/cords.
    1. We use a shoulder strap to connect the rescue can/tube to the body. I have never popped out of the strap accidentally when getting pummeled by large surf but have been able to quickly get out of them when necessary.
    2. Velco surf leashes - surfboards are attached to the surfer via a stretchable cord. The leash attaches the the surfer's ankle via a velco strap. The straps now have a large tab on them in case the leash gets caught on the submerged reef and the surfer is caught underwater.

    Adapting this to a dangerous river crossing, I would see the following solution design:
    1. Sling/Shoulder strap to 4' polyester cord
    2. 4' Polyester cord attaches to a safety flotation device (as per Willie's comments - it is much faster to swim without a life vest, however pulling a rescue can/flotation device has minimal impact on speed yet huge benefit in strong currents and whitewash)
    3. Flotation Device connects to river crossing rope via velco strap (in perfect world - velco releases automatically under "load") or any type of clip that would release under load

    This way, should the swimmer get in trouble:
    1. Velco connector/clip automatically pops off when river rope gets snagged on boulder
    2. Swimmer can grab flotation device for additional safety going through downstream rapids
    3. Swimmer can bail out of shoulder strap should velco/clip fail to release and/or 4' connector cord snagged as well

    Once again - hearing about a professional waterman losing his life is a real blow and I pray for healing for everyone touched by this.

    Willie - thanks for having the courage to share the story
  12. townsend

    townsend

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    So sorry to hear this. May Luca RIP. The discussion in this thread has been useful -- it has got me to thinking about the dangers of swift current, and how we can underestimate those unseen dangers from the safe vantage of the shore.
    Ram likes this.
  13. Dave Melton

    Dave Melton

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    As a trained Swiftwater Rescue Tech and former member (now retired) of a swiftwater rescue team, I completely agree with Rick's comments above. Never enter swiftwater without a PFD. Not wearing a PFD so that you can swim faster is a bad idea. A better way to get across a river is by wearing a PFD and using "ferry angle" so that the current will help push you across. Never be attached to a rope in moving current without a rescue PFD (with a release mechanism and the training to use it). Never use a rope at a 90 degree angle to the current (it will form a "V" in the current and trap the person on the rope). If you place the rope across the river at a 45 degree angle to the current, you can attach to the rope (with a tether and a release mechanism) and the current will take you across the river. Of course, first you have to get the rope to the other side. I'm not trying to teach a swiftwater class here on the collective, but these are just a few of the basic rules. I strongly suggest a swiftwater rescue class for anyone thinking about entering these types of situations. Like Rick said, it's a really fun course.

    I also have to respectively disagree with the ideas that joeb suggested. Although these may be proven techniques for surfing / ocean rescues, I would recommend against trying these untested techniques and equipment in a swiftwater environment. The results could be deadly. Sorry in advance for being on my soap box.
  14. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Rick's comments/advise are spot-on!

    My heart goes out to your group Willie, and especially to Luca. I can only imagine the horror, at both ends of the rope, when it became abruptly obvious that plans were going horribly wrong.

    I truly hate lessons that are gained this way!

    Getting an appreciation/respect for moving water is vital. If one is going to mess around in it, yes to training. Or either ease yourself into it with experienced partners.

    (Moved balance of post to Swift Water Safety thread.)
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2017
    willie92708 likes this.
  15. Dave Melton

    Dave Melton

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    Kuenn

    I have to disagree with you on a few points.

    1) you actually CAN swim in a PFD. This is how the "live bait" rescue that Rick mentioned is performed. You do have to swim aggressively though.

    2) wearing a PFD "like a diaper" turns it into a pool toy! It's like wearing your canyoneering harness with your arms through the leg holes. A PFD is designed to keep your face out of the water. Running a 1,000 ft class 2 - 2+ rapid with big water, holes and haystacks without a properly worn PFD may be fun, but it is not a safe way to "gain respect for old man river".

    OK, I'll get back down off the soap box now.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2017
    Rick Demarest and Stevee B like this.
  16. AW~

    AW~

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    I would think the lesson is that water can be underestimated at any level. This incident hits home to me since Ive swam that river,at a much lower CFS of a meager 425, but enough for me to have fallen gently into its reversibility trap.

    Let the turf scuffle between the 'swiftwater' peoples and the swimmers cease....does nothing to remember Luca. Start a separate thread or whatever, but I wont be joining it....except I'll say it here: From a swimming perspective, anything would be bluffing anyway. No elite swimmer does this kind of activity. Even Phelps would take one look at the river and say to leave it alone. The only way to get elite swimmers in that river would be rescue as they would have went in after Luca. But as far as recreational value? Risk is suffocating any benefit....no swimmer is leaving the beach anytime soon to swim the confluence of the middle&south fork Kings....believe me. Joeb was just being creative and had good, but 'inexact' intentions. Hopefully the disturbed turf waters can be chill again.

    The only interaction I had with Luca was basically being a lurker due to key 'war&peace' disagreements. That said, Ive always had a respect for a fellow explorer. In the end we were all rooting for him to finish that swim werent we? And I was happy for all the lives he contributed to. He made a difference here locally, for sure....I pictured him as a guy who would encourage and honestly meet the needs of people whom he could help. And if I recall correctly, a proud dad...but idk. I was hoping to read people share some details(thanks Kuenn for sharing)....fill in a bigger picture kind of thing.
    Rapterman likes this.
  17. willie92708

    willie92708

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    True enough, but clearly you can swim faster without wearing the PFD. I'm not defending Luca's choice, only restating that what he said is true. Of course we also need to clarify PFD, as what you really mean is one with large buoyancy force, but just how much? 18 Lbs? 24 Lbs? 33 Lbs?

    For myself, I never enter water such as the Kings River without enough floatation that my head is well above water without having to dog paddle. Since I'm awfully skinny I pretty much sink in just a swim suit if I exhale much air, I always use some reliable floatation in anything but a swimming pool. Like the 5/4/3 mm, low density closed cell foam, full body "wetsuit" I used in the Kings River gave me enough floatation that I really did not have to do anything to keep my head out of the water. I don't have a spec on it, but I'm guessing it's 8 lbs of buoyancy.

    We all had thick wetsuits with significant buoyancy, but I do not know how much for each person.

    I will point out that where Luca got trapped by the rope was at the edge of a frowning hole, with a huge water down force. I doubt even a 18 Lbs rescue PFD would have kept his head above water at that spot, especially since the rope was already snagged up on submerged boulders. Definitely no argument, it would have helped a bunch. And it goes without saying, if he used such a PFD, then he would have had a reliable, clean disconnect from the rope, which was his PRIMARY problem!

    And there in lies the problem. Just how to get the any rope across the river in the first place so that everyone and everything else can be ferried. And that's what Luca did for our team on our successful South to North crossing, and was attempting to do for our North to South crossing.

    Willie
  18. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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    AW
    Thanks for bringing the focus back on Luca.

    Whether coming from a climbing, caving, whitewater running, canyoneering or ocean sports background - all us of on this message board are attracted to exploration & adventure and the risk associated with those activities. In fact Canyon Collective really is a place where we go to discuss techniques to push the boundaries even farther. This tragedy along with reading about Ram's injuries from an incorrectly tied off harness is a reminder that no matter your level of expertise, none of us is exempt from serious harm or death - BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!

    Dave - glad you are "on your soapbox" - for 99.9% of people in 99.9% of the situations, a PFD should be worn. As AW pointed out, we should move discussion of dangerous river crossing techniques to a different thread.
    Rapterman, willie92708 and Kuenn like this.
  19. Steve Kugath

    Steve Kugath

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    Had the pleasure of spending 18 days hitting some of Southern Switzerland and Northern Italy's outstanding canyons with Luca. He was always very inclusive and willing to teach and share his knowledge. On the old yahoo group one year he posted an open invitation for canyoneers to join him....said he had access to a vehicle in Europe and was excited to make new friends. I jumped at the chance to join someone who was so familiar with the region. Though I had done a few canyons over in Switzerland previously, mainly with guides who provided the equipment I didn't have room for in my carry on, Luca opened up a whole new world of class C canyons to me. Together we hit many of the regions classics. He always had his camera at the ready to capture and photograph amazing places and provide images for those with whom he shared a rope. He was a courageous guy. At the top of a 65 foot jump in one canyon I begged to know if there wasn't some way to rap down...I was chicken to jump from much more than 50'...of course due to the canyon's flow I knew jumping was the only answer. With great patience he talked me into leaping and proceeded to demonstrate the safe zone by jumping beyond the pull of the hole created by the waterfall...I had confidence he'd somehow swim back in to pull me out if I didn't clear it. For 18 days he lovingly pushed me like a big brother and helped my confidence and skills grow in navigating the Class C realm.

    At times he was somewhat of a controversial poster here on the Collective. He couldn't wrap his mind around the idea of people not wanting or willing to share information on canyons more openly...somehow this grated against his personal vision of a canyoneering community. I think he did know that most who post or read here would certainly share a rope with him through their canyons yet published or known but he relished the idea of even more open sharing. I saw reason from both sides; I hope you'll forgive him for his strong passionate opinions...know that his intentions were always good. If you never met him in this life you might think ill of him because of those strong opinions. However he should be remembered mostly for his willingness to mentor so many and to ignite passion within others. How many people through out Southern California and other locales did he influence for good!

    I only had the opportunity to spend those 18 days with him in Europe but in a short time we became brothers... thank you Luca! I am so sorry for the void you leave behind. My heartfelt condolences to your daughter, parents, other family members and many friends...I'll miss you!

    sk
  20. redneckdan

    redneckdan Barely Domesticated...

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    Sorry to hear of Luca's passing. Sounds like he was quite the fellow.

    I finally got around to earning SRT-1 this July. It was an amazing class on the Animas. I learned a ton. We did one drill in a very controlled manor in very mellow water, whereby we simulated a rope foot entrapment and cutting yourself loose. In the moment,.it scared the hell outta me. I used to think 'I got a knife, I'm good...' I don't think that way any more...