Former valley resident, well-known kayaker dies in airplane accident
November 22, 2005
Kayaking pioneer and one-time Roaring Fork Valley resident Fletcher Anderson died Friday in a plane crash in Snake River Canyon in Wyoming.Anderson’s plane went into the Snake River after clipping a river gauging wire, which caused it to flip and crash into the water. No one else was aboard the Jackson, Wyo.-based Civil Air Patrol plane.”It’s kind of ironic, after all the crazy things he’d done, that he died that way, in the river,” said Andre Wille, a well-known local kayaker and teacher at Aspen High School.Anderson, 57, had extensive ties to the Roaring Fork Valley, where he spent the better part of three decades as a pioneer in extreme sports. He was one of the first kayakers to negotiate the Class V rapids of Gore Canyon near Kremmling. He was a paraglider, a nationally ranked nordic skier, a filmmaker, a pilot and an author.”He was the first kid to go down Slaughterhouse in 1963,” said Kirk Baker, a longtime friend who teaches kayaking and skiing in Aspen.Kayaking pioneer Walter Kirschbaum was Anderson’s instructor when he was studying at Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Together, teacher and student conquered the Class IV rapid on the Roaring Fork River outside Aspen. Anderson graduated CRMS in 1966 and Colorado College in 1970. He lived in the Roaring Fork Valley until the mid-1990s.
Anderson was a dominant presence in the sport of kayaking from the early1960s until he suffered debilitating injuries in a paragliding accident in the early 1990s. He was a national champion marathon kayaker and was considered one of the boldest whitewater specialists in the sport. He both produced and was featured in some of the most legendary film footage from the Grand Canyon, working with filmmaker Roger Brown.Anderson reportedly still holds the record for the fastest kayak run of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon: 49 hours. Anderson is the author of two books, one on kayaking and one on flying. His 1987 book “Rivers of the Southwest” is considered a classic among kayakers. More recently he had written an e-book published by Adobe Reader eBooks titled “Flying the Mountains.” “Fletcher was always so articulate, entertaining. Anybody who’s ever met Fletcher would have great stories to tell about him because the guy was about as animated and interesting as anyone you would know,” said Dick Jackson, owner of Aspen Expeditions and a one-time employer of Anderson’s. According to Baker, Anderson fell about 100 feet and bounced when he hit the ground when he lost control of his paraglider that summer in the early 1991 or 1992. The damage to his pelvis was so extensive that he was unable to sit in a kayak again. “So he took up flying.” He left the valley soon after recovering from the accident, moving to Telluride and then Jackson.
Anderson reportedly collided with a cable hanging across the canyon while flying the single-engine Cessna 182R, said Doug Henry, a member of Star Valley Search and Rescue and Civil Air Patrol.”He may have not been aware of the gauging cable” used to measure the river’s flow, Henry said at the scene. “We don’t know why he was that low.”Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper George Nykun said a trooper who discovered the crash said the canyon did not have clouds at the time. “He stated it was clear,” Nykun said.”We were asking the same thing, why he’d be flying so low, but there was no cloud coverage in the canyon this morning,” Nykun said Friday. Anderson, a certified flight instructor with more than 4,000 hours of flying time, was traveling from Jackson to Afton, Wyo., to meet with Henry for a review flight.Henry said Anderson, whom he called a “very experienced pilot,” departed from Jackson Hole Airport about 8:50 a.m. to meet with him at 9:30 a.m. for the review.Anderson ran Mountain Aviation Services. He had been a member of the Teton Composite Squadron since October 2004, performing search and rescue missions for the Civil Air Patrol.
He was well-known in Jackson Hole as an expert kayak paddler. Two of his brothers also live in Teton County.Rescue crews found the fuselage in the middle of Snake River, overturned with the plane’s underside, left landing gear and horizontal fin protruding from the water. A wing was upriver from the fuselage. Star Valley and Teton County Search and Rescue workers waded through the frigid waist-deep river and secured ropes to the fuselage and the pilot still inside the cockpit.Fletcher is survived by his wife, Shelby Evans; daughter, Sophie Anderson; son, Leif Anderson; mother, Grace Anderson; ex-wife, Anne Hopkinson; brother Nick Anderson and his wife, Wendy Morgan; brother Warren Anderson and his wife, Marty, and daughter, Natalie; his stepmother, Cat Anderson; and stepbrothers, Steve, Ben and David Fitzpatrick.A memorial is planned in Jackson in early December. In July 2006, a gathering to remember his life will be held on the banks of the Snake River at Crane Creek Ranch. In lieu of flowers, donations in Fletcher’s name can be made to The Journeys School Financial Aid Fund. Call Wayne Turner at (307) 733-3729 for details.Martin Reed is a reporter for the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Allyn Harvey is managing editor at The Aspen Times.