Rare river 'sinkhole' drags kayaker to his death

A kayaker has drowned after a rare sinkhole opened up on a river bed, creating a whirlpool that dragged him to his death.

Donald Wright, 64, from the US state of Arkansas, died on Saturday at Saddler Falls along the Spring River, after he bypassed a section of the river known as Dead Man’s Curve.

The whirlpool was both instantaneous and thousands of years in the making, Bill Prior, a geologist supervisor from the Arkansas Geological Survey, said.

The Spring River eroded harder rock above an underground cavity, and when the river bed gave way, it created a vacuum that sucked the water in a “pretty strong vortex”.

“I’ve been here for 40 years. This is the first one I’ve ever heard forming in a river like this,” Mr Prior said.

Geologists say a sinkhole created the whirlpool, as pictured above, leading kayaker Donald Wright to his death. Source:AP/Arkansas Game and Fish Commission file pic.

Sinkholes are common in the northern half of Arkansas, where subterranean limestone erodes away easily. Small whirlpools are common where bits of land extend into waterways, but having a sinkhole open a whirlpool in the middle of a stream is uncommon.

Rachel Ratliff, whose family owns Spring River Camp and Canoe, rented canoes to Mr Wright’s group and said Mr Wright was wearing a life jacket and was an experienced kayaker.

“But the river is stronger than any life jacket there is,” she said.

Ms Ratliff has 60 boats, all of which she rented out Saturday before the accident.

She said she’s seen no cancellations yet for the upcoming weekend, and the Spring River remains open.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission warned prospective boaters to stay away from the whirlpool, which is marked off by buoys and ropes.