The Connecticut River Continues to be Dangerous - Cold Water Kills

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Michael Hinsley

1963-Dartmouth Student Drowns after canoeing accident Four Rescued

April, historically is not the most dangerous month for drownings in Hanover. The Connecticut River has been substantially tamed by the construction of the Wilder, McIndoe Falls, Comerford and Moore Hyroelectric dams. These dams have provided power and helped provide flood control along the 410 miles of the river. Dams can help reduce some of the dangers of the river by regulating flow rates.

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Dams cannot eliminate the danger of cold water and the likelihood of drowning from hypothermia for anyone who falls into cold water.

Clifford S Gurdin High School Yearbook Photo

Clifford S Gurdin a member of the Dartmouth College class of 1964 and two fraternity brothers of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, Charles O. Blaisdell Jr. and Glen R Kendall went canoeing in the Connecticut River on a particularly windy day with gust reported up to 35 mph. The weather conditions cause the College to cancel a crew race on the river. Another canoe was swamped by the wind gusts and waves that cold April afternoon. The Golf course had a number of trees down due to wind gusts and a barn in Etna and a house in Norwich were struck and damaged by fallen trees.

The three canoeists were able to paddle North of the Ledyard Canoe Club approximately one mile before being swamped by the waves and wind and thrown into the 40 degree water. Generally a person if they get past the initial shock of falling into cold water and the natural response of hyperventilation and do not panic, they can survive for 10, 15 or even 20 minutes before their muscles go weak, lose coordination and then consciousness. These times vary based on the patients body, what they are wearing and other factors. 

The description in the news accounts reveal that Blaisdell and Kendall were both very lucky to not have met the same fate as Clifford S Gurdin.

As soon as the report of the capsized canoe was received The Hanover Police and Fire Departments responded. This response was supported by the Director of the Dartmouth Outing Club, Mr. John Rand.

In addition to serving as the Director of the Outing Club, Mr John Rand was also a member of the Hanover Fire Department.

The initial rescue attempt was interrupted by the need to rescue two other Dartmouth College students whose canoe swamped and needed rescue. This interruption in no way contributed to the adverse outcome of Clifford Gurdin. Unfortunately Clifford's fate was sealed after he slipped beneath the surface of the Connecticut River. The fact that four of the five individuals who ended up the the 40 degree water of the Connecticut survived is pretty amazing.

The search for Clifford Gurdin'd body lasted five days with nearly continuous searching and dragging of the river with grappling hooks. This was the longest documented, duration active search in Hanover's history that I have found. This search was exceeded in duration and complexity in May 1973 for drowning victim Ignacio Fierro Jr.

The Hanover Dispatch Log of April 20, 1963 records the initial wind damage reports at 3:10 pm and the report of the tipped over canoe at 3:15 pm.

Benjamin Thompson, Pemrose Chase and Members of Dartmouth Outing Club and NH Fish&Game recover the body of Clifford S Gurtin

Drowning is one of the leading cause of death for Dartmouth Undergraduates, second to military service deaths.

Material Credits to The Hanover Fire Department and  Dartmouth College's Rauner Library. 

Rauner is a really interesting, safe place to check out on a cold wet day in April.


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