River Incident Report #740011

Date of Incident: August 30, 1967
River: Colorado
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: Spanish Bottom (Mile 213.0)
Relative Flow: Low
Gage Reading: 5,140 cubic feet per second
Difficulty: Flat Water
Type of Incident: Swimming
Injuries: Drowning
Type of Trip: Commercial
Type of Boat: None

A 26 year old man was a passenger on a 40-person commercial expedition from Moab, through Cataract Canyon to Hite. On August 30, most of the group was ferried across the river from its camp to Spanish Bottom to participate in a hike to the Doll House. Upon completion of the hike a few passengers rode back to camp in a boat, but the day being warm and the river low and quiescent, most swam the narrow channel. Life jackets were not required in this part of Cataract Canyon at that time.

A 12 year old girl had just swum across the gap when the victim entered the river. A few seconds later he called for help and a motorized and manually powered pontoon was launched immediately. The man's body had a high specific gravity and was found below the surface of the water about 90 seconds later. CPR was administered for 4 hours without success, and a subsequent autopsy attributed the death to drowning.

The rafting party continued through the rapids in Cataract Canyon the following day, carrying the victim's body. A help call was signaled during a pre-arranged rendezvous, and a pontoon plane landed at Dark Canyon to retrieve the body.

In Retrospect
The victim was a swimmer and it is unlikely that he simply drowned while trying to negotiate 25 yards of flat water with a slow current. It is speculated that he suffered debilitating cramps when he entered the cooler environment of the river after the hot hike. This should be a consideration for anyone "cooling off" in the river on a hot day.

Source of Information
Times-Independent, Moab, Utah
Raft Expedition Ends In Tragedy Near Moab
September 7, 1967, p. A-5.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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