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Whitewater Death Brings New Helmet Design

Paddling down whitewater rapids in kayaks and rafts is one of the nation's fastest growing outdoor sports. More than 10 million people participate, double the number that paddled whitewater just a decade ago. The sport is generally safe, but there are about 50 or 60 deaths a year. A few years ago, one of those deaths prompted a grieving father to take a closer look at one important piece of gear: the safety helmet.

Seven years ago, Lucas Turner set off with friends on a whitewater kayaking trip down the North Fork of Idaho's Payette River. Turner, 22, was by all accounts a talented paddler. In the middle of one of the river's dangerous rapids, Turner's kayak flipped, and he was killed by a fatal blow to his forehead.

As Turner's father Gil grieved, he began to look at what had gone wrong. Ultimately, Gil Turner believes his son died because his helmet wasn't adequately designed for the unique demands of rushing water. The Utah resident then began a project to design a better whitewater helmet, and, in the process change safety standards for the industry.

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David Malakoff
Nicknamed "Scoop" in high school, David Malakoff joined NPR in December of 2004 as the technology and science correspondent for NPR’s science desk. His stories about how science and technology impact people’s daily lives can be heard on all NPR news programs.