River Incident Report #820312

Date of Incident: 11/10/82
River: Colorado
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: Big Drop Three
Relative Flow: Low
Gage Reading: 12,480 cubic feet per second
Difficulty: Class IV
Type of Incident: Two successive immersions in cold water resulting from capsizes
Injuries: Drowning
Type of Trip: Private
Type of Boat: Inflatable Row Raft (Army 10-man)

A 32 year old woman was one of fourteen members in a group with six boats. Seven were experienced boatmen, but only one had previously navigated Cataract Canyon (twice). The party had been warned of a cold front moving into the area and on November 9 the range of temperature in Moab was from 58 to 38 degrees; the temperature of the river in Cataract Canyon was 46 degrees. Some of the boaters were equipped with wet suits, but the woman was not. In addition, she did not know how to swim.

The boats reached the head of the Big Drops at 15:00, and after scouting, ran Big Drop One and scouted Big Drop Two. The raft, in which the woman was the only passenger, turned over in Big Drop Two, and she and the boatman were in the water for two to three minutes before gaining the shore on river-left above Big Drop Three. By the time the boat was righted; the woman was given dry clothing; and Big Drop Three was scouted; it was dusk. The woman was now wearing a wool sweater, long-sleeved turtle neck sweater, down vest, jeans, socks, sneakers, and a life jacket; she declined a wool hat, saying she was not cold.

The same boat flipped again in Big Drop Three (Mile 202.2) and the woman and the boatman clung to it while it drifted about a half of a mile until it struck a rock 20 feet from shore. The woman was stripped from the raft and climbed on the rock while the boatman swam ashore. While seeking a throw-line, the boatman could hear her weakening calls for help. The woman slipped into the water and the boatman was unsuccessful in reaching her. The body was found about 30 minutes later, after dark, on river left at Mile 201.5, face up, head out of the water, and still in her life jacket. CPR was initiated and continued for more than four hours by a qualified EMT with negative results.

In Retrospect
1) The ability to swim is a definite asset for boaters, particularly where the possibility of capsizing in rough water exists.
2) Wet suits are advisable for passages through rapids when the water and air temperatures are low. Also, one should readily admit when he/she is cold, and take proper action and accept assistance.
3) In judging when to run difficult rapids, one consideration should be to navigate at an early enough time of the day that a recovery from an accident may be effected during daylight. This is particularly important in Cataract Canyon where many of the larger rapids occur in close sequence and complications starting in one rapid may continue into others.
4) The autopsy lists the cause of death as drowning. However, hypothermia was undoubtedly a major contributing factor.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

2282 Resource Blvd.
Moab, UT 84532



Contact Us