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Page, AZ – National Park Service (NPS) rangers at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area affected three nearly simultaneous rescues on Lake Powell on Monday of Memorial Day weekend. An unusually powerful thunderstorm cell struck the Bullfrog Bay area in the late afternoon. Wind speeds eventually increased to a sustained 50-60 miles an hour and lasted until about 5 p.m., creating multiple problems for boaters.
At 4 p.m. Halls Crossing rangers Brian Yetter, Eric Herndon, and G. M. Yancey were notified of a female with spinal injuries located within the Halls Crossing buoy field. While responding to that call they overheard traffic on Marine Band emergency channel 16 of a vessel calling "Mayday" with four females on board at buoy 101. The women reported that they were out of gas and sinking. Supervisory Ranger Yetter diverted the park service vessel and responded immediately. During the ten minute trip to buoy 101, the 25-foot NPS Boston Whaler was taking large waves over the cabin. At buoy 101, the sinking vessel was located within a 50 yard wide cove contained by 100 yard high sandstone walls. This location was exceptionally dangerous due to wave energy being contained in three directions and the danger of the boat colliding with canyon walls. Ranger Yetter was able to come alongside the 25-foot cabin boat while rangers Herndon and Yancey secured the vessels and rapidly loaded the frightened passengers onto the park boat as the vessels continued to crash into one another. Following the rescue, rangers recognized that the NPS boat had taken on large amounts of water. The decision was made to beach the vessel at a safe location and wait out the storm. As the weather subsided, a United States Coast Guard Auxiliary unit detailed to Lake Powell for holiday operations was able to safely transport the four victims to Bullfrog Marina.
As the first rescue was underway Bullfrog rangers Carmen Barnard and Moses Rinck launched a second NPS vessel to support ranger Yetter and his crew. While responding to buoy 101, rangers Barnard and Rinck spotted another vessel, a ski boat, partially sunk with two people aboard. They safely loaded the two victims onto their boat just as the water took the ski boat under. One of the victims was later treated for hypothermia.
Following the wind event, rangers Yetter and Herndon returned to the patient with the possible spinal injury. Following a thorough evaluation, this patient was transferred to the Park Service fireboat captained by Supervisory Ranger Steve Luckesen, a park medic, and transported to the Bullfrog clinic, where she was later evacuated by air. Patrols both up and down the lake revealed no additional victims.
This type of weather event is not uncommon at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area during summer months. The National Park Service reminds boaters to be aware of sudden weather changes. Boaters are required to carry a properly fitting, approved life jacket for each person on board. If extreme weather seems imminent, all passengers should be wearing a life jacket.