River Incident Report #850181

Date of Incident: June 13, 1985
River: Colorado
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: Mile 207.0
Relative Flow: N/A
Gage Reading: N/A
Difficulty: N/A
Type of Incident: Airplane Crash
Injuries: Abrasions, Contusions, Fractured Collar Bone
Type of Trip: Private
Type of Boat: N/A

At 11:00 a.m., a Cessna Turbo 210 airplane crashed into the Colorado River and sank within 15 minutes on the eddy line just below Rapid 12 (Mile 207). Ice cream in a blue life jacket had been dropped from the aircraft to friends in a private river party. The airplane made three passes which were witnessed by a commercial group of 66 people who were less than a mile downstream, and the last two passes were at elevations estimated between 35 and 50 feet above the water; the group felt it was being "buzzed." The commercial group did not witness the crash from which the pilot and passenger, both men, crawled onto the sinking airplane. The latter were rescued by their friends from the private trip. The pilot and passenger sustained abrasions and contusions, and the passenger a fractured collar bone. The pilot stated that the crash occurred when the plane developed an engine problem and he tried to switch fuel tanks. The injured were treated by an EMT in the private group and shortly afterwards they were transferred to a larger boat of a second, fast-moving commercial trip. The second commercial group transported the victims through the remaining rapids to the mouth of Clearwater Canyon which is in Cataract Canyon (Mile 192.1), but in the segment inundated by the Powell Reservoir. There, the victims were again moved, this time to a private speed boat which carried them to Hite. At 17:00 a small commercial aircraft in Moab, Utah, was contracted to carry the men to a hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado.

In Retrospect
The pilot violated Federal Aviation Regulations. He was also thoughtless and unreflective for the safety of himself, his friends and others in the canyon. Although the ice cream drop was anticipated, the boaters and passenger in the plane may not be held responsible for unfamiliarity with aviation laws. However, they must have recognized the peril of the flight, and should have refused to condone it. If any did have such knowledge, then they were accomplices.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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