Former VTDigger staffer Alan Panebaker dies in kayak accident

Alan Panebaker at work as a reporter at the Vermont Statehouse in May. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs regrets to report that Alan Panebaker drowned on Wednesday, Sept. 19, doing what he loved best — whitewater kayaking.

Alan was an avid paddler who graduated from Vermont Law School last year and recently worked as a reporter. In July, he took a job with American Whitewater, a river conservation group.

Every chance Alan got, he found a way to hit the whitewater. Nearly every weekend, he explored the St. Lawrence River near Montreal or went kayaking on Vermont and New Hampshire waterways.

Yesterday was no exception. Tuesday night heavy rainfall swelled the Pemigewasset River in New Hampshire, and the next morning Alan went kayaking with friends in a remote section of the Flume Gorge.

Alan lost control of his kayak as he came down the falls near Centennial Pine Bridge. His boat was wedged between rocks, and when he tried to right the kayak it flipped over, according to a report from local police. His body was submerged for an hour before it surfaced. The Lincoln, N.H., police department and search and rescue team recovered his body. This morning officials released his identity.

Alan was 29 years old. He lived in Montpelier with his partner Magdalena Dale — or “Mags” as he always called her — and his dog Buddy. He is survived by his parents Dave and Janet and his brother, Eric.

Alan graduated from the University of Montana School of Journalism in 2005 and cut his teeth reporting for the Ashland Daily Tidings and Mail Tribune newspapers in Southern Oregon where he covered education and the environment. He later wrote a weekly outdoors column for the Anchorage Press in Anchorage, Alaska, and he published freelance work for Canoe & Kayak magazine. Alan took a three-year hiatus from journalism to attend Vermont Law School. He passed the bar in November 2011.

We here at are greatly saddened by Alan’s death. He was a bright and talented man with a great work ethic and sense of integrity. He was beloved by us and the Statehouse community. We especially enjoyed his keen and self-deprecating sense of humor. He will be greatly missed.

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Gov. Peter Shumlin issued the following statement Thursday on Alan’s passing:

“I am deeply sorry to learn of the death of VTDigger reporter Alan Panebaker, and my heart goes out to his friends, family, and the VTDigger staff. Alan was a fair, thorough and informative reporter, and always had a smile for his fellow journalists and the politicians he covered. He will be missed.”

Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith issued this statement:

“I am greatly saddened to hear that former VTDigger reporter Alan Panebaker passed away this week. He was a diligent, effective reporter and brightened the halls of the State House with his sly smile and great sense of humor. I extend my sincere condolences to his partner, family, friends, and the staff at VTDigger.”

Vermont Democratic Party Chair Jake Perkinson’s statement:

“I am deeply saddened to hear of Alan’s passing. He was a thoughtful and fair reporter who brought a unique perspective to every story. We send our condolences to his family, friends, dog Buddy and the entire Digger Team during this difficult time.”

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Here’s a blog post Alan wrote last year about the death of kayaker Boyce Greer: Keeping on

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Alan’s death was reported on a range of media. Here are some links:

Vermont Public Radio: Former Vt. Reporter Dies In Kayaking Accident

Seven Day: Alan Panebaker, Former Digger Reporter, Dies in N.H. Kayak Accident

Vermont Press Bureau: Former Statehouse reporter Alan Panebaker dies at 29 in kayaking accident

Burlington Free Press: Former Vermont reporter dies in New Hampshire kayaking accident

WCAX-TV: Former Vt. reporter dies in kayaking accident Former Vt reporter dies in NH kayaking accident

New Hampshire Public Radio: Kayaker Who Died Was Official With National Whitewater Organization

American Whitewater Association: AW Northeast Stewardship Director in Tragic Accident

Paddling Life News/Playak/com: AW Northeast Stewardship Director Alan Panebaker Dies Kayaking in New Hampshire

Boater Talk forum:

Anne Galloway

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103 Comments on "Former VTDigger staffer Alan Panebaker dies in kayak accident"


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Daniel Barlow
4 years 3 months ago

This is so sad … Alan was a fantastic reporter and I enjoyed seeing him around the Statehouse. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and close friends.

Liz Schlegel
4 years 3 months ago

Such a loss. Alan was one of my favorite reporters ever.

Stan Hopson
4 years 3 months ago

How sad.

Tom Stevens
4 years 3 months ago

This is a terrible loss. Our thoughts are with his partner and his friends. He was a thoughtful and inquisitive reporter while with Digger. He will be missed.

Jeanne Keller
4 years 3 months ago

This is just awful. In the blink of an eye, an engaging, smart, ethical, hard-working journalist and public-spirited Life is gone. Alan: we hardly knew you, but we shall really miss you. My heartfelt condolences to all his family, friends and colleagues. What a loss.

Avram Patt
4 years 3 months ago

Alan was a thorough and fair reporter on Vermont energy issues, and as far as matters he called or buttonholed me about, he got the facts right better than most. Condolences to his family. friends and colleagues.

Steve West
4 years 3 months ago

A great loss. So sorry for all of you at VT Digger and Alan’s family. There are too few good reporters in this world to lose any, including Alan.

Jason Tucker
4 years 3 months ago

Alan was the type of guy who’s enthusiasm for whatever he was doing right then and there was infectious. He made you quickly realize how good the present was and how much fun there was to be had. Though I was only able to spend time with Alan for one year at VLS, I’ll always remember what a good nature he had as a ski buddy or just a cool guy to kick it with. My condolences to him family, partner, and dog.

Ken Russell
4 years 3 months ago

I’m so sorry to hear this!! My condolences to his family and to all who knew him. Oh my God!

Patti Komline
4 years 3 months ago

I was so fond of Alan and appreciated his thorough and balanced journalism. I was sorry when I heard he was leaving Digger and am heartsick at this news. Anne, thank you for enabling us to get to know Alan during his time in the State House. To Alan’s partner, friends and family – my heart goes out to you in this most difficult time. And to you too Anne…

Judy MacIsaac Robertson
4 years 3 months ago

Such a tragic loss. I did not know Alan, only read his work. Another reminder to live each moment and love deeply. My family sends their condolences to Alan’s partner, their families, co-workers, neighbors and friends.

suzanne schipper
4 years 3 months ago

I am so sorry to hear this. Sincere condolences to all who know and loved Alan.

kevin ellis
4 years 3 months ago

Hey Alan – I know you are up there, bugging me about PR flacking, seeing through the smokescreen, calling the question, and driving the politicians. The first amendment had you in mind. And the best thing was that you “put it in the paper!” (or on line) when too many reporters know a lot but don’t write it.

You made the world a better place. Thank you for gracing us.

vince illuzzi
4 years 3 months ago

Alan quickly became part of the extended family at the State House. We all loved him and missed him when he left. We will miss him forever.

Claudia Pringles
4 years 3 months ago
When no one was really paying attention or had an interest in our story, Alan came along and saved the day. He took a genuine interest in kids with autism and wrote a great article that got the attention of the legislators and the state. The last time I spoke with him was at the State House, he was interviewing a high ranking state official when he saw me walk by. He then dropped the interview and ran up to catch up with me. He wanted to check on the progress of our autism bill. He was a good man… Read more »
4 years 3 months ago

I was so sorry to hear this. Alan was always thorough, fair, and friendly. His articles were excellent, and I always enjoyed saying hello to him at a hearing. My deepest condolences to those who knew and loved him personally. Even from my limited knowledge of Alan, I can feel that his passing is a great loss.

Nick Monsarrat
4 years 3 months ago

Very sad news. Alan was a hardworking reporter and a kind soul; it was a privilege to have briefly known him. My condolences to both his and the VTDigger family.

Cynthia Browning
4 years 3 months ago

I don’t know what I can say to add to what others have already said, but I, too, am so sad and shocked to hear of this loss.

The fact that the picture chosen shows him smiling and laughing is wonderful. He had a great sense of humor and an appreciation for all the absurdities and ironies of the legislative process.

Rep. Cynthia Browning

William Driscoll
4 years 3 months ago

I am very sad to learn of Alan’s passing. He was a truly good person, and it was as enjoyable to talk to him about a story he was working on as it was about just how things were going. I am sure he will be missed by many. My thoughts go out to all of his loved ones and friends.

4 years 3 months ago

Words cannot express my sorrow in hearing this news. He was an amazing person, dedicated reporter, and a true friend. Thank you Alan Panebaker, for your positive energy, glowing spirit, and for all of the laughs we shared in the statehouse. The world was brighter with you in it. My heart goes out to his family, colleagues, and friends as we all try to comprehend this devastating loss.

Don Turner
4 years 3 months ago

My sincere condolences to both the Panebaker and the VTdigger families, colleagues and friends on this tragic loss.

Sheryl Rapee-Adams
4 years 3 months ago

I’m terribly sorry to learn of Alan’s death, a bright light extinguished. My heart goes out to his partner Magdalena, to Buddy, to all who knew and cared about him.

4 years 3 months ago

So sorry to hear this terrible news. He was a talented journalist and will be deeply missed. Thinking of you, Anne, and everyone at VT Digger – he had a big impact in a much too short life.

Eric Davis
4 years 3 months ago
I was terribly saddened to read of Alan’s passing. He was a fine reporter, and a fine person, with a whole range of opportunities awaiting him in life. My sincerest condolences to his partner, family, friends, and colleagues. Perhaps Dylan Thomas’ poem, “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” can be of comfort at this time of loss. And death shall have no dominion. Dead men naked they shall be one With the man in the wind and the west moon; When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone, They shall have stars at elbow and foot; Though… Read more »
Matt Cota
4 years 3 months ago

Alan’s work for VT digger was always in depth, accurate, and fair. He had a wonderful sense of humor, incredible intelligence, and had a bright outlook on life. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Bob Houghton
4 years 3 months ago

Thank you for that wonderfully charming and smiling photo of Alan. I needed that even more than the story. Such a devastating loss.

Jordan Gonda
4 years 3 months ago

Alan was a fellow VLS grad that I only wish I would have gotten to know better. We ran into each other quite frequently, both having chosen to remain in Vermont after law school. He was a passionate individual and always making somebody laugh. I admired him a lot and I am so sorry that Vermont has lost such a talented young professional and adventurer. My sincere condolences to his girlfriend, his family, friends, and our fellow VLS colleagues. You will be missed, Alan.

thatcher moats
4 years 3 months ago

Such a terrible thing to hear. Alan was such a good guy.

Donald Kreis
4 years 3 months ago
I didn’t know Alan well, but I felt such a kinship with him because we had a particular connection at the macro level (journalism and law) and at the micro level (vtdigger and Vermont Law School). I was so pleased to see someone use his VLS training to pursue the cause of excellence in Vermont journalism through vtdigger, I have such good memories of Alan nodding politely when I would stop by the newsroom in Montpelier to impose my latest harangue on him about what to cover on the energy beat, and I wish I had tried harder to persuade… Read more »
Heidi Tringe
4 years 3 months ago

I am so saddened to learn of Alan’s passing. He was a stellar reporter and always a positive presence in the State House. My heart goes out to his partner, family, close friends and all of you at vtdigger.

Nancy Remsen
4 years 3 months ago

I have been stunned for several hours after hearing of this tragedy. I remember Alan’s excitement earlier this summer as he spoke about his new job. I appreciated his professionalism as a journalist, and as everyone has noted, his smile. What potential he had, no matter what he would have done.

Raymond Large
4 years 3 months ago

Alan was a dear friend. I grew up with him in the mountains of western North Carolina. We spent many weekends together with our brothers and fathers in the wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains. BSA Troop 914 has lost a very amazing alumnus.

His family is one of honor and integrity. Thank you for such a touching article and tribute to Alan. We are all better people because Alan Panebaker was in our lives.

Ben Walsh
4 years 3 months ago

I’m going to miss you man.

tony klein
4 years 3 months ago

Oh Alan! I will miss you! You covered the energy field so fairly and thoroughly! I was sad when you left Digger but happy to know you left to pursue your passion! I will think of you often whenever I am in the State House or in my Kayak!!

Jeff Coy
4 years 3 months ago

My condolences. This is a loss for all Vermonters.

Christopher Curtis
4 years 3 months ago

This is really tragic news. I did not know Alan well, but the few times I met him I was impressed with his intelligence, inquisitiveness, and his irreverent sense of humor. It’s a sad day for Vermont when we lose someone of Alan’s obvious caliber.

Joe Choquette
4 years 3 months ago

Alan’s work was proof that you can be a good reporter who uncovers all of the facts and tells it like it is, but be respected by your news sources and a friend away from the job. We were all sorry that he left vtdigger, and we are saddened by his death.

4 years 3 months ago
The world has lost a bright star. I helped introduce Alan to whitewater canoeing and kayaking through scouting and Troop 914. He showed great ability and enthusiasm as he developed his skill.His dad Dave and I taught swiftwater rescue a few times, so Alan was aware of the risks. I am very sad for the family and send my sincerest sympathy, they are a great adventuresome group, very unique.Alan’s career in paddlesport was significant, we will miss his spirited intellect and humorous attitude. Alan’s passing brings home the delicate nature of life and the risks associated with high adventure. I… Read more »
4 years 3 months ago

Too soon, way too soon. I was disappointed when Alan announced that he was leaving journalism – something he was obviously very good at. But he was so excited and happy that he was off to do something he loved all the more. A professional and a very nice guy. A horrible tragedy.

Dotty Schnure
4 years 3 months ago

Alan was a great reporter — interested, fair and careful to get it right. And he was always professional and personable. Very nice guy with a great sense of humor and warm smile. I was so sorry to see him leave VTDigger, but glad he was off to do something he loved. Very, very sad to lose him. My heart goes out to his family and everyone who loved him.

Walter Carpenter
4 years 3 months ago

God, I feel so sad. Alan and I are both avid kayakers. We often talked about going kayaking together when things were hot at the statehouse and we needed something to laugh about. This is awful. I am going to take a paddle in his honor and memory. It is so sad.

Tommy Gardner
4 years 3 months ago

Damn. My condolences to everyone who knew him as more than a really talented byline.

4 years 3 months ago

Losing such a talented, spirited, smart and humble young man is a tragedy. Although I didn’t know Alan well — and only worked on a couple of stories with him — he had an inquisitive and skeptical mind. He wrote about often dry and complicated topics in an engaging and conversational way. I was sorry to see him leave journalism, but happy for him in his new job. My heart goes out to Magdalena, his parents and all who knew him. You will be missed, Alan.

4 years 3 months ago

I’ll announce this on the radio program. We appreciated his articles on the autism bill and interest! So sorry, ANNE

Josh Fitzhugh
4 years 3 months ago
This is an awful shock, such a talented fellow. I am sorry I never met him but I certainly enjoyed his articles. His death reminds me of another years and years ago. A very talented reporter left the Washington Post and moved with his family to Claremont NH where he bought (or began editing) the Claremont Eagle, then the major daily in that part of the world. (I don’t think the Valley News had yet begun.) The Sugar River flooded and he decided to go out for a canoe, but did not return. I think this story was written up… Read more »
Jake Sorich
4 years 3 months ago
I knew Alan when he attended the University of Montana. We worked at the student newspaper together. He was ALWAYS in a good mood, no matter what he was working on, what was going on in his personal life. He always knew how to lift up the newsroom. We’d joke together and play pranks on our fellow staffers…things like that. He was a great writer and had a bright career in front of him. I haven’t heard from him much since we both left school, but this is such heartbreaking to hear. I considered Alan my friend and this is… Read more »
Nancy Lynch
4 years 3 months ago

I am stunned and so very sad to hear this. My heart goes out to Alan’s loved ones. Vermont just lost a wonderful man and reporter. Such a huge loss.

brian buckley
4 years 3 months ago

Alan, we love and miss you here at rainbow, man. Give em hell out there.

4 years 3 months ago

Alan did a solid job covering two of the most difficult beats in the state — Vermont Yankee and health care reform — and we at The Commons deeply appreciated the work he did and welcomed any chance to reprint his stories in our paper. The news of Alan’s death is a kick in the gut, as it is whenever someone dies before their time. On behalf of my colleagues, I offer my deepest condolences to the VTDigger family.

Elise, Elena, Haidee Reynolds/ Wilson
4 years 3 months ago

Alan was loved for many things and to hear of this tragedy brings such acute sadness but to know that he was doing exactly what he loved…just LIVING life, is to be honored and celebrated!!!
Much much love to all the family

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