Flying fish knocks kayaker out of race

19:28, Aug 26 2010

A fish out of water sent a kayaker onto dry land instead of the finish line at an annual Missouri River endurance race.

Houston resident Brad Pennington was considered one of the favourites among men's solo racers in the Missouri River 340, a canoe and kayak race that began on Tuesday morning (local time) in Kansas City, Kansas. At least until a 14-kilogram Asian silver carp jumped from the water and hit him in the head. The fish are known to panic and jump in response to passing vessels.

"It felt like a brick hit me," Pennington said.

The 43-year-old lawyer already was having trouble steering his boat, a streamlined model built for speed but not necessarily sturdy enough to withstand a river known for commercial transport. The fish flew as Pennington was trying to return to shore to repair his kayak, assisted by a competing three-man team.

Pennington said he had to withdraw just hours into the 550-kilometre race because of a "pounding, pounding headache that kept getting worse." A nurse suggested further medical treatment, but he declined.

"It's definitely a risk of being out on the river," said Tracy Hill, a project leader for the US Fish and Wildlife Service's local fisheries office. "It's extremely serious. Those things can kill you."

Hill spent Wednesday volunteering at the race's Huntsdale checkpoint near Columbia. One day earlier, while conducting tests on the river, he was hit several times by flying carp.

Hill and his colleagues already wear construction hard hats while on the job. He suggested - with a straight face - that an upgrade to hockey helmets and protective netting might be in order.

Asian carp can eat up to 40 percent of their weight a day in plankton and were imported in the 1970s as a way to control algae and plankton in fish ponds. But the fish made their way into the wild and have infested waterways including parts of the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers. Work continues to prevent the voracious fish from slipping into the Great Lakes.