River Incident Report #0007000005

Date of Incident: April 6, 2000
River: Colorado
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: Brown Betty Rapid (Rapid 1, Mile 212.3)
Relative Flow: Low
Gage Reading: 8,460 cubic feet per second
Difficulty: Class III
Type of Incident: Flooded and Lost Canoe
Injuries: None
Type of Trip: Private
Type of Boat: 17' Grumman aluminum canoe

A 46-year old man and his 44-year old wife were flushed into the 54-degree water of the Colorado River when their canoe flooded in Brown Betty Rapid. The man floated through one additional rapid and the wife through two before they gained shores on opposite banks. The canoe with their food, water, and most of their equipment, an investment of $2,100, continued drifting downstream. The couple then hiked downstream to Rapid 5 before realizing they were in Cataract Canyon. They then reversed direction and hiked 3 miles upstream to Spanish Bottom where they encountered a motor boat operated by a Park concessionaire. They later reunited the uninjured couple and evacuated them from the canyon. Subsequently, some of the equipment was found by other boating groups, and the heavily damaged canoe was recovered below Rapid 8 (Mile 209.0) by a Canyonlands River Patrol.

The victims launched at Mineral Bottom on the Green River on April 4 with the intention of being picked up at the confluence with the Colorado River, 52 miles downstream, on April 7. They failed to recognize the confluence of the rivers, mistaking it for the abandoned channel of the Green River at Anderson Bottom, 31 miles upstream. When they saw the large sign warning of the dangerous rapids 2½ miles ahead in Cataract Canyon, they thought the sign had been vandalized and that a 3 was intended to precede the 2½.. Two minutes before entering the mill race above Brown Betty they heard the rapid, but too late to paddle ashore; they did, however, don their life jackets, an act which may have saved their lives.

In Retrospect
This mundane account belies the fact that it is the most shocking of the incidents reported on these web pages. That two competent and well-intended people could miscalculate by 31 miles in distance and an entire day in time is incredulous in itself. Even more astounding are the facts that one of the two victims is not only a former Park Service Ranger with 10 years of experience in Glacier and Yellowstone Parks, but is also a canoe instructor and had previously navigated this same route.

Rangers fight futility in determining how this accident could have been prevented. Even more frustrating is the fact that well trained and knowledgeable people make such gross mistakes. They do, and they did. So, how can better performances be expected from those less qualified and less informed?

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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