Kayakers rappelled down slick rocks and fought their way through some of the Potomac's fastest rapids Thursday evening to recover the body of a fellow kayaker who drowned near Great Falls in Maryland.
The woman who died has been identified as Shannon Christy, 23, of Greenville, S.C. She was in the area for this week's 26th annual Potomac River Festival, which features a race at Great Falls attended by some of the nation's best kayakers.
"She was an expert kayaker," Jason Beakes said.
Organizers of the race cancelled it Friday, so Christy's friends and family could hold a memorial service, scheduled for 11 a.m. on the Virginia side of the Great Falls. The other Potomac River Festival events will go on as scheduled.
"Shannon Christy loved kayaking and it is through kayaking that we honor her memory," said Active Nature, which organized the event, in a statement.
Christy's fellow kayakers recovered her body about two hours after she went missing.
Christy was kayaking with another boater Thursday afternoon when she went into the rapids of the Center Lines of Great Falls. Each of the rapids are named, and kayakers are familiar with their quirks and dangers.
The second boater followed Christy into the first rapid, called "Grace Under Pressure," according to the statement from Active Nature. He was only about 15 seconds behind Christy, but after traveling through the rapid he didn't see her or her boat.
He continued down the run, according to Active Nature's account. As he approached the last major rapid in the series, he saw Christy, out of her boat and swimming.
He tried to reach her, but she was swept into a dangerous rapid called "Subway," which Active Nature called a "known deadly section of Great Falls. "
The second boater alerted authorities. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue and helicopters with U.S. Park Police were dispatched to conduct the search, but it was the volunteer rescue kayakers who located the body, in the "Subway' rapid.
Emergency crews had reportedly let the kayakers continue their recovery of the body because they knew the difficult terrain better even than the rescuers.
The rescuers had to feel their way through waterfalls and "washing machines" -- churning stretches of whitewater that can pull down even the strongest swimmers. Video of the recovery shot by Chopper4 shows kayakers carefully making their way through the rapids, using straps to secure themselves.
A group of up to 10 kayakers worked on the recovery. At about 6 p.m., they set up a pulley system to recover the body, carefully holding on to the straps as they braced themselves on the rocks. Other kayakers stood the water or waited in kayaks nearby in case more help was needed.
"We had some of the best kayakers in the world on hand and it took a lot of effort just to get that spot in the river," Beakers said.
Chuck Thorntown, a kayaker at the scene, told Bensen the men were very experienced kayakers. The group helped retreve her body for Christy's family, they said."
The Potomac can be a dangerous place for kayakers and swimmers. The Great Falls area is classified as "Class V" whitewater, among the most extreme rapids considered to be passable by kayakers.
But other parts of the river can be equally dangerous. About a week ago, the body of a U.S. soldier was recovered from the Potomac River. Last month, the body of 19-year-old Ngo Forchick Tekwe was also recovered from the river.
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