Violent Whitewater Hospitalizes ‘Roll-Cage’ Raft Inventor

Designed to tackle the worst rapids, more than a dozen of the bizarre-looking vessels tumbled down the 104-vertical-foot drop of Washington’s Sunset Falls.

creature craft white water raft roll
Creature Craft in action. Note, this is not where the accident took place

Darren Vancil, inventor of the Creature Craft, landed in the emergency room with serious injuries after thrashing in a violent set of rapids on the Skykomish River.

Scroll down for the video below that shows the accident.

Sunset Falls drops more than 100 feet over a 275-foot stretch of river. It’s a seriously technical and turbulent falls along the fast-flowing south fork of the Skykomish. Prior to last month, only seven boats descended this rigorous section of whitewater.

creature craft white water raft roll
Sunset Falls

On May 21, 13 Creature Crafts with their patented inflatable roll cages added to that total. But Vancil took a blow to the head, lost consciousness, and suffered a fractured pelvis, sacrum, and significant bruising after he was pummeled on his attempt.

Yet, he still swears by the craft.

White Water Accident

The Creature Craft is designed with the ability to roll. An inflatable, cage-like construction prevents riders from being pinned underwater.

It also allows paddlers to traverse increasingly difficult sections of whitewater.

creature craft white water raft roll
Vancil, alive and well in the hospital

Vancil and his partner hit an exceptionally violent vertical crease halfway down the falls, causing a loss of control. Buckled into his seat, Vancil thrashed forward and had his paddle ripped from his hand.

The handle of his paddle struck just below his helmet behind his ear, instantly knocking him unconscious. From there, he rocked back and forth within the raft down the rapids.

The raft made it through the falls without tipping, but Vancil remained unconscious for five to 10 seconds after the impact. He was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital.

His efforts are documented on a gofundme for his medical costs. In this video, he recounts the experience from his hospital bed and shows footage of the falls.


What’s A Creature Craft?

Creature Craft has been in development since 1998. The technology advanced over the years and is now used for rescues and recreation.

Inflatable polyurethane air chambers keep the raft afloat and provide cover above the rider’s seats in a roll-cage design.

Up to two riders can sit in a Creature Craft, with handheld or fixed oar positions. The unique raft can bomb rivers with much higher flows, which has drawn criticism from whitewater purists who think it makes serious terrain too easy.

As seen in the video above, the Creature Craft pushes the limits of whitewater rafting. It hosts several clinics and camps each summer for owners.

“That sort of thing is only possible in a Creature Craft,” Vancil noted from his hospital bed.

The video below shows the Creature Craft’s rolling feature in action.


The raft repeatedly submerges both riders as it rolls in the same spot for two minutes.

According to Grand Junction’s Daily Sentinel, Vancil said one person has died in a Creature Craft in its nearly 20-year history.

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Midwest born, Nate Mitka started with Gearjunkie after a short stint as “intern”. An advocate of all outdoor activities he’s developed some habits, like running without headphones, eating raw vegetables, and fixing the chain on his ratty old bike.

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