Kayaker missing near Vail | AspenTimes.com

Kayaker missing near Vail

Chris Outcalt
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAST VAIL, Colo. – Officials from Eagle and Summit counties spent hours Thursday evening searching for a missing kayaker on a Class 4 stretch of a creek near Interstate 70.

The search was called off around 9 p.m. and was to resume Friday at 7:30 a.m. Officials found a kayak and a life preserver they think belong to the missing boater, whose name was not released by the Sheriff’s Office.

Eric Bissel, of Golden, and Leif Anderson, of Fort Collins, went kayaking on the creek Thursday afternoon with their 29-year-old friend, who lives in Vail. Bissel and Anderson hadn’t been on the stretch of water. Their friend had been on it once, scouting it.

The short section of the Black Gore Creek called the Fish Ladders has a series of about a dozen drops of a few feet each, Bissel said.

“Eric and I were kind of the more experienced paddlers,” said Anderson, who competed in Vail’s Teva Mountain Games steep-creek challenge Thursday morning. “We were going to guide (him) down; he wasn’t taking huge step up, but he was making a step forward. He was excited. It was a new run.”

Bissel and Anderson were the first to run the creek, they said. Their friend was on the bank taking pictures. Then they switched places. He and Anderson were going to paddle it while Bissel took pictures, Bissel said.

“I was giving him pointers,” Anderson said. “He was following me down.”

Then, “It all went pretty wrong,” Anderson said.

The Vail kayaker went off a drop near the top of the run and got caught in a hole – a spot where water pours over an a object and then hits a pool of water, creating a suction effect that can hold a boat underwater – according to his friends.

“He’s not getting out,” Bissel said. “He’s flipping all around.”

Bissel found a rope on the bank of the creek and tried a few times to throw it to his friend, who was about 12 feet away. His friend couldn’t grab it, Bissel said.

They kayaker eventually popped out of the hole but was out of his boat, Bissel said. He went over a few of the drops and got knocked around.

“As he’s going over them, he winds up crashing into rocks and taking a couple hits,” Bissel said. “He’s still floating down the river.”

Leif, with a different rope in his hands, ran down the bank of the water and tossed it to his friend again.

The rope hit him in the chest, Bissel said. He didn’t grab it.

“It seemed like he was dazed or unconscious,” Bissel said. “At that point, we started scrambling down the stream, trying to catch up.”

The brush along the water got thicker, and it got harder for Bissel and Anderson to see their friend, Bissel said.

“We ran all the way down as far as we could,” he said.

A few hundred yards after their friend was hit with the rope was the last spot they saw him, Bissel said. The creek eventually narrows and leads to a gorge, he said.

“There are big, violent drops,” he said. “It’s hard to get in there to see what happens.”

Officials from Vail Mountain Rescue Group, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, the Vail Fire Department, the Eagle County Ambulance District and a dive team from Summit County all responded to the incident.


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