On Tuesday Evan and I assisted in the rescue of the women who tragically passed away after the raft she was on flipped in Tunnel Rapid. Our sincere condolences go to family and friends.
After much reflection over the last few days we’d like to make the following comments in an effort to minimize the chances of a repeat incident. We understand that a short a time has passed since Tuesday, but the river is very high today, and will remain so over at least the weekend, so we are compelled to comment now.
Our river at flood stage is extremely cold, fast and powerful. Surface waters reflect off the banks and push to the middle of the river. Rapids overrun the flat sections making it extremely difficult to swim to the shore. Currents can hold a well attired swimmer under water for long stretches of time. This setup considerably increases the risk of immersion hypothermia and flush drowning.
The woman was well dressed for the conditions, with a wetsuit, PFD and helmet. Despite this she became unconscious at some point of her swim. The rescue services responding to the incident had no effective way of reaching or dealing with an unconscious swimmer. About 15-20 minutes had passed when we came across the scene driving up the canyon. Once in our boats we were able to retrieve and pull the woman to shore within a couple of minutes and begin CPR. This confirms our experience that a boat based rescue by experienced, equipped people is the only fast and effective method in a situation such as this. In addition, kayaks provide a far more nimble option than rafts.
We implore boaters not to go it alone while rivers are so high. Have backup. Another boat at least. Preferably more. It is our opinion that raft trips should be backed up by experienced safety kayakers. And of course, should you end up swimming, be dressed for the frigid waters so you have more time to reach the shore.
In short… if you have to rely on outside resources for rescue, the chances of a tragic result rise greatly. Please respect the river.
Our goal here is to create awareness. Please share this opinion with friends, privately or publicly. Thank you.
Marty and Evan