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Pro kayaker heroically saves paddler trapped in crevice at Kanawha Falls, W.Va.

A kayaker from Tennessee was saved from almost certain death by professional kayaker Corey Lilly of Fayetteville, West Virginia. Sam Davis was kayaking alone near Kanawha Falls when he swam out of his kayak while running the falls. Davis was able to wedge himself on a ledge behind the waterfall as his empty kayak swept down the Kanawha River. 

Lilly saw a photo of the empty kayak circulating on Facebook and had a gut feeling that Davis may be trapped behind the falls. “Knowing that with my extensive background of the area and paddling the falls hundreds of times, I knew that would be easily overlooked by search and rescue, and that’s somewhere that I wanted to check immediately,” Lilly told  

Search and rescue crews were dispatched to the scene to hunt for Davis but stopped their search around 10 p.m. Sunday night. That’s when Lilly called fellow kayakers Stephen Wright and Paul Griffin for assistance and the trio set out to search behind the falls for Davis. When Lilly and his friends arrived at the falls, they heard Davis yelling for help. “At that point we were like, ‘He’s alive. He’s stable. And we need to make the best strategic action that is going to get this done swiftly and quickly,” Lilly said.

Lilly says he hopes the successful rescue will encourage swift water rescue teams to call on local kayakers for their help and expertise. “In moving forward, I think what you’re going to see is… a closer bond and relationship between the DNR, the whitewater community and the whitewater commission I hope,” Natural Resource Police Captain Woodrow Brogan III told WOAY. 

Davis’ was trapped behind the waterfall for eight hours. He was hypothermic when rescued but is expected to make a complete recovery. 

Photo: Kanawha Falls in West Virginia aerial view – photo by Ronnie Hicks

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