April 09, 2020
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Kayaker drowns over the weekend in flooded Penobscot River

MILLINOCKET, Maine — A 25-year-old Millinocket kayaker drowned over the weekend on the swollen waters of the Penobscot River, near where the Nesowadnehunk Stream meets the West Branch.

Joseph Giffune, Jr., 25, died while whitewater kayaking with a friend just after 5 p.m. on Sunday. Just before the junction, Giffune got stuck in a hydraulic at the bottom of some rocks and was unable to free himself.

A hydraulic happens on whitewater rapids when water pours over the top of a submerged rock and forms a sort of water-rushing hole, which then causes the surface of the water to flow back upstream toward the submerged object.

Giffune was eventually released from the hydraulic and swept downstream into the West Branch. He was unconscious when his body was pulled from the river. Life-saving measures were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

John MacDonald, Public Information Officer for the Maine Warden service confirmed the death Monday.

Seasonal snow melt and the opening of Brookfield Renewable Energy’s opening of the Ripogenus Dam north of the West Branch last week has led to river and stream flooding in the area, which isn’t unusual for this time of year.

The “exaggerated” flow of rivers, brooks and streams in springtime Maine can pose especially perilous conditions, MacDonald said.

MacDonald said the warden service doesn’t typically advise swimmers, canoeists and kayakers to stay off dangerously flooded rivers and streams, but he did advise only those with “high levels of experience” to forge ahead, and even then, to “exercise extreme caution and (use) buddy systems.”

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