Date of Incident: August 7, 2001
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: Mile 205.2, River Right
Relative Flow: Low
Gage Reading: 5,150 cubic feet per second
Type of Incident: Flash Flood
Type of Trip: Commercial
Type of Boat: 18' Row Raft
It had been drizzling during the night of August 6 and 7 and the heavy clouds observed by a commercial boatman should have suggested the possibility of rain; he and his two passengers were camped by the mouth of a side canyon upstream from Rapid 13 (the head of the Mile Long Rapid) in Cataract Canyon. At 00:30 in the morning their camp was inundated by a flash flood emanating from the side canyon. The boatman was knocked down by knee-deep water, and after recovering, futilely attempted to alert his French-speaking guests. The linguistic problem was resolved when flood waters hit the tent of the latter, and the three then salvaged the tent and sleeping bags. The 18’ raft in which the party was traveling had been secured by one line to a sand stake in the flood zone, and the boat, much of the camp gear, and some personal property was washed into the Colorado River. As the raft drifted away, the boatman considered swimming to it, but with life jackets and oars ashore, he made a wiser choice.
Two other commercial groups assisted the following morning, leaving food and water, establishing communication via satellite phone, and promising to look for the lost boat and equipment. During the afternoon a boat from the company of the stranded group picked up the distressed party for the continuation of its journey. The lost boat was retrieved at Rapid 18 (Mile 204.1 at the foot of Mile Long Rapid).
The accident was entirely the fault of the boatman on two accounts: 1) The selection of the camp was poorly considered. Camping in flash flood zones at the mouths of side canyons is never advisable, and in damp weather during the time of year when thunder storms are common, it is absolutely dangerous; and 2) One mooring line is adequate for tended and watched boats, but at least two lines are recommended for overnight parking.