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Whitewater kayaker's plunge over Williamsville waterfall ends with broken collarbone

A 37-year-old Buffalo attorney hopped in his kayak and tried to conquer the 27-foot waterfall in the Glen Park on Thursday.

James Ratchford took the plunge over Glen Falls and ended up in an ambulance with a broken collarbone.

Ratchford was one of two whitewater kayakers who went over the waterfall in a park known for the picturesque scenes of its ponds, trees and walking trails.

But the part of Ellicott Creek that runs through the park includes a Class 4 waterfall, said Don Boehmer, president of the Zoar Valley Paddling Club.

The first kayaker went over without any problem. Ratchford, however, mistimed an important stroke, Boehmer said. Ratchford is one of 10 or 12 club members who whitewater kayak over waterfalls around Western New York, Boehmer said.

"There are calculated risks," he said, adding, "but things do happen."

Ratchford did not return a message left Friday morning by a reporter.

Going over Glen Falls in a kayak apparently is nothing new. Thrill seekers do it, and sometimes post videos of it on YouTube.

Park rules prohibit swimming or wading in the waters of Ellicott Creek, but make no mention about the use of watercraft.

There were safety measures implemented in the creek on Thursday, Boehmer said. Two kayakers were in the water, one above and one below the falls, as well as two others on the shore wearing life jackets and helmets and holding throw ropes ready to toss towards the kayakers should trouble emerge, he said.

The kayakers also had an emergency plan in place, which, unfortunately, they had to use, Boehmer added.

Ratchford was using a kayak designed for whitewater use. It's designed to prevent itself from collapsing and has padding for the kayaker, according to Boehmer.

The paddling club has nearly 70 members, the majority of whom participate primarily to see the scenery and don't take on the drops over waterfalls. The club offers practice time in local school pools twice a year, with sessions that involve training on paddling, gear and safety information, he said.

Boehmer said he believes Ratchford missed the timing on what's known as a "boof" stroke, or the last stroke made before going over the lip of the waterfall. The stroke, when done properly, helps the kayaker land properly and keeps the nose of the kayak out of the water.

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