River Incident Report #977027

Date of Incident: September 27, 1997
River: Colorado
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: Big Drop Two
Relative Flow: Low
Gage Reading: 16,890 cubic feet per second
Difficulty: Class IV
Type of Incident: Capsized Boat
Injuries: Drowning
Type of Trip: Private
Type of Boat: Paddle Raft

A 40 year old male was a member of a rafting group consisting of 22 people in two paddle rafts, two row rafts, and two inflatable kayaks, and at Big Drop Two he was in a crew of seven in a paddle raft. His wife later reported that he was in poor physical condition at the time of the accident. This was the trip leader's eighth run through Cataract Canyon. The extremes of temperature at The Island In The Sky were 73 and 49 degrees, but it was warmer in the canyon. The temperature of the water was about 63 degrees.

The captain of the paddle boat and perhaps the entire party, was unaware of its location when it reached the Big Drops at 13:30, and nobody scouted the rapids. Much of the experience of the captain was as a passenger. She had been through the canyon four times, but only when the river was flowing about 5,000 cfs. She rated herself as an intermediate boater, and stated that she neither had paddle-captain experience, nor wished to direct the raft through the Big Drops. In addition, after running Big Drop One her attention was distracted by a swimmer whose kayak had capsized there, and as a result the course of her raft was over the crest of the feature known as Little Niagara and into the hole below where it overturned.

Regrouping and rescue operations were complicated by the flipping of the second kayak at Little Niagara with the consequence that three boats were upside down and eight people were in the river simultaneously; three of the eight sustained injuries in addition to the victim. The victim floated for a mile and a half and through four rapids before he was reached at 13:50 below Ten Cent Rapid (Mile 201.0). He was face up and in his life jacket, but lifeless, and attempts to revive him with CPR failed. A passing commercial trip transported one of the injured to Hite from where she was flown by helicopter to a hospital for treatment of possible concussion.

In Retrospect
1) The poor physical condition of the victim contributed to his exhaustion.
2) "Where am I," is not a question for a boatman to be asking AFTER she has entered the Big Drops. Bring a good map and use it.
3) Always study Big Drop Two and Big Drop Three before running them.
4) Experience is the best teacher. Have an abundance of it before navigating the Big Drops.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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