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Contact: Scott Brown, 435-425-4130
Following three near-fatal incidents that occurred during the 2011 summer season, the National Park Service is temporarily closing the Fremont River waterfall area to public use during the warm weather months of 2012.
With the arrival of warmer temperatures, visitors are often attracted to the swimming hole at the base of the falls. Unfortunately, serious and life-threatening conditions currently exist at the waterfall that are not readily apparent to visitors when they enter the water.
Hazardous swimming conditions near the waterfall are the result of highly aerated water and the strong recirculating currents in the plunge pool. The water at the base of the falls is highly mixed with air resulting in a significant loss of the buoyancy that is typical of non-aerated water, causing even strong swimmers to sink. In addition, strong currents on the surface of the pool pull swimmers into the falls and into danger.
The waterfall located near mile marker 86 on State Highway 24 in Capitol Reef National Park was created in 1962 when the river was rerouted to accommodate the construction of Highway 24. This water feature has, since its construction, been an attractive site for swimmers and recreationists. The dynamics of the waterfall have changed over the years, however, as the river has cut a narrow channel in the soft sandstone. This has increased the velocity of the water at the waterfall and created a hazardous water-filled slot above, and a dangerous plunge pool beneath, the falls.
On June 20, 2011, a six-year-old boy visiting with his family from Wisconsin entered the water, was drawn under the falls, and was quickly pulled under the surface and held there by currents. The boy was under the water for several minutes before his father found him under the surface. When pulled to the shore the boy was not breathing and had no pulse. By coincidence, there were two highly trained medical professionals also at the waterfall and they rendered assistance. After about one minute of CPR, the boy was revived. An air ambulance helicopter was summoned and he was flown to Salt Lake City and has recovered.
Again on July 15, 2011, a twelve-year-old girl from California was pulled under the surface by the strong currents while swimming and remained under the water for approximately three minutes. Noticing the emergency, thirty-three year old Austin Ball from Logan, Utah entered the water to assist. He was quickly overcome by the flow as well and was under the water for nearly two minutes. Both the girl and Ball eventually floated to the surface where bystanders pulled them to shore. Both were not breathing or had pulses. In this instance, CPR was initiated by a physician who luckily happened to be on scene. Both victims eventually regained consciousness and were flown to hospitals in Provo and Salt Lake City where they recovered. Following the incident Ball stated, "I did not anticipate just how much force the waterfall could generate, and just how turbulent the water could be. I've visited this area before and the flow off the waterfall is more concentrated now than it has been in the past, and is obviously more dangerous. The force it generates at its base is too great to escape."
The closure area extends from one hundred yards upstream to one hundred and twenty five yards downstream of the waterfall and includes the waterfall parking area. The seasonal closure will be lifted when the weather becomes too cold for swimming.
Click the links below to watch local news reports regarding accidents and the waterfall.
KUTV 2 (Windows Media, 32.9 MB)
KSL 5 (Windows Media, 26.6 MB)