River Incident Report #0007000009

Date of Incident: May 12, 2000
River: Colorado
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: : Big Drop Two/Three (Mile 202.5/Mile 202.3)
Relative Flow: Moderate
Gage Reading: 27,000 cubic feet per second
Difficulty: Class IV
Type of Incident: Capsized Raft
Injuries: Drowning and Near Drowning
Type of Trip: Commercial
Type of Boat: 18' Row Raft

Five boats containing 17 boatmen and passengers made a rendezvous for mutual support near the head of Cataract Canyon. The assembly represented three separate trips sponsored by the same company and coordinated for the purpose of safety. At 14:30 an 18-foot oar raft capsized in the Ledge Wave, the first large wave in Big Drop Two, and the boatman and four passengers were dumped into the 58-degree water. As they drifted through the tail waves, the boatman clambered onto the overturned craft, helped one passenger aboard, and then the two attempted to assist the other three passengers who were clinging to the sides of the raft. A motorized J-rig which had preceded the oar boat through the rapid was unable to provided assistance because of the proximity of the overturned boat to Satan's Gut, a large hydraulic at the top of Big Drop Three.

The capsized raft then became high centered on a rock at the top of Satan's Gut where it remained for 30 or 40 seconds, and during this time all five original occupants were flushed into Satan's Gut. While the raft was stuck, the operator of the J-rig ran Big Drop Three and was able to maneuver below Satan's Gut where he retrieved three of the passengers; one was a 74-year old male in cardiac arrest, and another was a 54-year old female in poor condition. CPR was initiated on the 74-year old with difficulty owing to the victim's clenched jaws and clogged airway, but was continued while the J-rig proceeded to Ten Cent Camp (Mile 201.0). There, the medical technician was replaced by a physician and a critical care nurse, both passengers from another boat, and the latter the daughter of the victim. CPR was continued as the J-rig continued downstream to near Gypsum Canyon (Mile 197.2) from where the Park Service was contacted by radio and to where a helicopter was dispatched. The nurse indicated that her father was dead, and the doctor concurred and pronounced him such at 15:08.

The helicopter reached the scene at 16:21 and two Park Service patrol boats, one from Glen Canyon and the other pertaining to Canyonlands, arrived a minute later. The 54-year old woman was in mild distress, having swallowed much water during her swim; she was transported to a hospital by the helicopter at 17:00. The victim, his daughter (the nurse), and one of the boatmen were taken to Hite by the Glen Canyon Patrol, and the Canyonlands Patrol returned upstream to assist in the regrouping of the three commercial trips.

In Retrospect
This accident occurred in spite of strict adherence to safety considerations and depicts the inherent danger of rapids. In addition it points out that one's age should be evaluated in determining his/her suitability for white water river trips.

This accident was discussed by Christopher Smith in the Salt Lake Tribune, May 19, 2000 (Once Extreme, Rafting Is Now A Family Sport)...... "The physiologic stresses are severe when a person, especially someone older and not in prime physical condition is immersed in turbulent, cold water." Smith supported this statement with a quotation from Dr. Tom Meyers (coauthor of Fateful Journey: Injury and Death on Colorado River Trips in the Grand Canyon)....."There's the involuntary gasp when you fall in, the tendency to hyperventilate, to panic if you cannot anticipate the wave train, and the likelihood of immersion hypothermia, slipping into unconsciousness after you get a few slaps of water in the face."

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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