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Drowned man’s body recovered

Tim Mutrie

Rescuers on Sunday recovered the body of a 22-year-old Oklahoma man who died Saturday after being swept over a waterfall on the Roaring Fork River, east of Aspen.

According to witnesses, swimsuit-clad Randall Park, of Muskogee, Okla., waded into a pool in the Grottos, directly above a waterfall, quickly lost his hold on a rock and was swept away in the current, said Deputy Randy Smith of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. The rapids of the Grottos are considered class 5 white water.

“There’s some still water right before the Grottos rapids, falls area,” Smith said, “and he thought he’d go for a classic rocky mountain stream dip. But he just got away from the rock [he was holding onto], and the water swept him right into the class five, which is not a survivable rapid.

“Within a minute of entering the water, he was in serious, serious trouble,” Smith said. “I don’t think he lived much beyond that.”

Park, who was on vacation and visiting friends in Aspen, was in the Grottos area Saturday with a large group of friends associated with the Aspen Music Festival, according to Smith.

A 37-person rescue team was dispatched to the scene at about 2:40 p.m. Saturday after members of Park’s group notified authorities that he was in the water and in trouble. The team searched the stretch of river until dark without success, before postponing their efforts until Sunday morning.

Before yesterday’s search, rescuers contacted the Colorado State Water Commission to arrange for the water from Grizzly Reservoir to be diverted from the Roaring Fork River. When the search continued Sunday at 6 a.m., the water flowing through the Grottos section was drastically lower. At about 7:45 a.m., the rescuers spotted Park’s body “fairly close to the bottom of the waterfall,” Smith said.

“We were able to spot the body fairly easily at that point and without risk to rescuers,” Smith said. “But we never would have found it without that streamflow diversion. We were fortunate that way. There was such a remarkable difference from [Saturday’s] water to [Sunday’s] water.”

Park’s death is currently recorded as a “drowning,” though Smith said Park did sustain some physical traumas in the accident. The coroner recorded the time of Park’s death as 2:40 p.m. Saturday – about the same time the initial call for help was received by authorities.

“This is particularly tragic because it really didn’t need to happen, it was just a real unfortunate area to enter the water – directly above some unsurvivable water,” Smith said. “He didn’t have any safety margin at all.

“I don’t think Park had any idea what that water was going to do, even though it’s not white water in that pool, there’s still a strong current there,” the deputy added. “I suspect it was a little seductive in terms of being an easy entrance into the water right there.

“We’re experiencing quite a bit a runoff right now and I suppose he didn’t factor that in,” Smith said. “It absolutely shocked me that someone would even consider getting in that water [Sunday], but it happens.”

The Grottos, located about nine miles east of Aspen along Highway 82, are a popular summer swimming spot when the river is running lower.

Rescuers from the Colorado State Water Commission, Mountain Rescue Aspen, Snowmass Wildcat Fire Department, Basalt Fire and Rescue, Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office participated in the weekend search and recovery effort.


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