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41-Year-Old Man Perishes in Arkansas River Despite Proper Safety Gear

JOHNSON VILLAGE, CO – A 41-year-old man lost his life on the Arkansas River near the Buena Vista whitewater park on Friday afternoon. According to a press release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the man was seen entering the river on an innertube and, shortly after, appeared to be in obvious distress.

Witnesses reported seeing the victim struggle to reach the shore from the Buena Vista South Main recreation area. He reportedly went through the river’s hydraulics and appeared to struggle, ultimately becoming unresponsive and floating downstream.

CPW’s Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) rangers, alongside the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office and Chaffee County Emergency Medical Services, responded swiftly to a call for help at 2:40 p.m. A commercial rafting company in Johnson Village downstream was alerted, and its staff acted promptly to retrieve the victim from the river.

Despite the immediate start of CPR by Emergency Medical Services personnel upon rescue, attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful. The victim was declared deceased at the scene.

Tom Waters, AHRA park manager, shared his condolences. “We extend our sympathies to the family and friends of the victim,” said Waters, who noted the man was wearing a properly sized and fitted personal flotation device and a full wetsuit at the time of the incident.

This incident brings the confirmed number of water-related deaths in Colorado to 11 this year, with two more under investigation. The body has been turned over to the Chaffee County Coroner for official determination of the cause of death and notification of relatives.

Safety Tips and Lessons

In light of this incident, it is essential to remember the importance of safety when engaging in water-related activities, particularly during the spring run-off from snowmelt. Waters urged the public to stay informed about conditions by contacting the AHRA before entering the river or to use a commercial rafting company.

Even for individuals who consider themselves strong swimmers, rivers with strong currents can pose significant risks. Currents can easily sweep even the most experienced swimmer downstream or pull them under the surface.

To improve safety, always:

  1. Wear the appropriate gear: A personal flotation device, a wetsuit, and other gear can provide a critical margin of safety.
  2. Check water and weather conditions: Be aware of potential dangers such as currents, tides, and changes in the weather.
  3. Be cautious of hydraulics and eddies: These river features can trap or disorient individuals.
  4. Never venture alone: Having a buddy system in place can make a significant difference in the event of an emergency.
  5. Understand your abilities: Rivers can change quickly and dramatically with weather and water conditions. Even if you have navigated a stretch of river before, it can be entirely different under new conditions.

In such challenging situations, safety must always be paramount. Learn more about whitewater safety on the website of American Whitewater.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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