River Incident Report #9907000005

Date of Incident: May 27, 1999
River: Colorado
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: Big Drop Three
Relative Flow: Moderate
Gage Reading: 40,400 cubic feet per second
Difficulty: Class IV
Type of Incident: Flipped Boat
Injuries: Near Drowning
Type of Trip: Private
Type of Boat: Row Raft

At 15:30 a woman passenger and her boatman were thrown from their raft by the large wave at the Frog Hole, a massive hydraulic in Big Drop Three (Mile 202.1). Although slightly suppressed at low flows, and partly drowned at high flows, the Frog Hole is most sinister at a Moderate stage when a wave as high as 25 feet may develop. The boatman regained the boat, but the woman drifted down stream. The two were in a group including 17 people, and were in the first boat in a sequence of seven rafts and two kayaks. Prior to the trip the group leader investigated reports of the flows of the Green and Colorado Rivers for the purpose of determining if the combined waters in Cataract Canyon were within the range of experience of the boatmen. They were, but the rates increased rapidly after the expedition was launched. The passengers were offered the opportunity of walking around the Big Drops and some accepted while others declined. The temperature of the water was 55 degrees.

The victim was swimming when last seen, but when reached at Ten Cent Rapid (Mile 201.1) she was face down in the water, breathless, and without a pulse. CPR was initiated and after 20 minutes the woman was revived. At 17:30 contact was effected with a nearby commercial boating group which possessed a radio. By scaling a wall of the canyon, a member of the commercial group established contact with a small aircraft which in turn communicated with a Park Service Ranger at Hite, Utah. A medical helicopter was summoned and the woman was evacuated. After three days in the hospital she suffered only short term loss of memory (regarding her swim) and complete recovery was expected.

In Retrospect
The trip leader or boatman could have insisted that the victim walk around Big Drop Three if they considered the margin of safety small, but after safely negotiating Big Drop Two, such a decision would seem unlikely. The lesson of this near tragedy is that unexpected emergencies are inherent in the navigation of dangerous rivers.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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