Police in Norway believe Irish kayaker Colm Johnson, who died in a river there on Monday, lost his grip on his kayak after capsizing at the bottom of a steep ravine drop and drowned.
A police spokesman in Norway’s Gudbrandsdal district confirmed last night that while they were still awaiting the results of an autopsy, they were treating the death as a tragic accident.
All the evidence points towards Mr Johnson’s kayak capsizing after he went over a steep canyon drop.
He appeared to grab hold of the upturned kayak for a few seconds afterwards.
“But the water in the canyon flows very fast and it appears Mr Johnson lost his grip,” the spokesman said.
Mr Johnson’s family are hopeful that his body will be repatriated within the next two days. His parents Ann and Moss, a retired garda, were waiting for news from Norwegian authorities last night about when they will release their son’s body.
Their son, Alan, is a garda, and his sisters, Niamh and Síle, are in Australia.
Mr Johnson’s body was identified by his friends after Monday’s accident. They are being supported by Irish consular officials from Oslo.
Mr Johnson, 25, from Clancoolmore, Bandon, in Co Cork, arrived in Norway on Saturday for a holiday with four experienced kayaking friends. The group kayaked a relatively easy section of Sjoa river on Sunday, in the municipality of Vågå in central Norway, before taking on the river’s Ridderspranget ravine section on Monday.
Mr Johnson, a UCC master’s student and member of the university’s kayak club, got into difficulty while going over a difficult 8m drop at 2.30pm. He was the first of the group to tackle the drop but failed to surface.
When his friends were unable to rescue him, the emergency services were alerted and a full-scale rescue and recovery operation was mounted.
The crew of a rescue helicopter spotted his body in the water at about 3.30pm but police said the steep terrain limited the aircraft’s access, and high water levels hampered the recovery.
Mr Johnson’s body was recovered downstream by other kayakers.
His friend, Robert Rusk, co-captain of the UCC Kayaking Club, paid tribute to Mr Johnson last night.
“There are not enough superlatives to describe Colmm” said Mr Rusk. “He was just a really nice guy and was a great person both on and off the water.
“We all looked up to him. There was no one better at staying upright in a kayak.
“Everyone involved in the sport would know each other and we have all been left in a state of shock by this.”
Police described the Sjoa as a popular but challenging river for kayakers. Thirteen people died on the river from 1989 to 2010.
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