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Third Death in a Week on the Arkansas River Amid High Spring Run-off

SALIDA, CO – In the wake of escalating whitewater conditions, a man tragically lost his life in the Arkansas River east of Salida, marking the third river-related fatality this week and the 14th in Colorado this year.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) reports that around 3 p.m. Friday, a private raft carrying three people flipped in the Class III Bear Creek Rapid. All passengers were hurled into the frigid, swiftly flowing river.

A quick response by a ranger from CPW’s Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) allowed the rescue of one passenger. Another managed to reach the shore safely. Unfortunately, the third passenger and the capsized raft disappeared downstream, prompting an extensive search involving multiple agencies, including CPW, AHRA, the Salida Fire Department, and the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office.

The capsized raft was eventually spotted approximately two miles downstream, near Wellsville, with the missing passenger appearing to be tangled with it. Despite wearing a life jacket, the passenger was unresponsive.

The victim eventually separated from the raft and was discovered on an island upstream of the Wellsville Bridge. A group of private boaters retrieved the body and brought it ashore, where immediate CPR was administered. Despite intense efforts by EMS personnel, the victim could not be revived.

Tom Waters, AHRA Park Manager, expressed his deepest condolences to the victim’s family and friends, emphasizing this tragic incident underscores the importance of being adequately prepared for challenging whitewater conditions during the spring run-off. Waters urged the public to check river conditions with AHRA before entering the river or to utilize the services of a commercial rafting company.

Lessons Learned and Safety Tips

In light of this tragic incident, it’s crucial to highlight the importance of safety when navigating whitewater conditions:

  • Always check current river conditions with local authorities or a reputable source before embarking on a trip.
  • Consider utilizing the services of a commercial rafting company, especially when dealing with more challenging Class III rapids or higher.
  • Always wear a life jacket when on the river. However, remember that even with a life jacket, rivers with strong currents can still pose a significant risk.
  • Know your limits and the limits of your group. Don’t attempt to navigate waters or rapids that exceed your skill level.
  • Understand the risks associated with high water levels during spring run-off, which can drastically change river conditions.
  • In case of capsizing, try to stay upstream of the raft and work towards the nearest shore or calm water.
  • Be aware of the risks of hypothermia in cold water and dress appropriately for the conditions.
  • Always let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return. A float plan can be a lifesaver if something goes wrong.

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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