Russian man killed in Eagle River rafting accident near Vail loved adventuring with friends
AVON — Nikolay Pezhemskiy only lived 29 years, but he lived every day of his 29 years.
Pezhemskiy was born in Russia’s Republic of Buryatia near the world’s deepest lake. He immigrated to the United States eight years ago and immediately stretched his entrepreneurial wings. He launched a business just over a year ago that already employed four people and spent almost every minute looking for travel deals that took him around the world.
His favorite destination was the Vail Valley to enjoy adventures with friends.
Pezhemskiy took his last ride Thursday afternoon. He and four friends launched their raft near the EagleVail golf course. About 1:10 p.m. they hit a high wave and dropped into a hole. Their raft flipped and all five were thrown into the rushing, frigid Eagle River. Four scrambled to the bank and called 911. Pezhemskiy was found in the river near the Eaglebend apartments. First responders worked feverishly on CPR, but could not revive him.
They were not part of any local company, friends said. They were just skilled boaters enjoying a brilliant late spring afternoon.
Taking the call, making the call
Tetiana and Evghenii Kanashuk were Pezhemskiy’s best friends. Microseconds after the others in the raft called 911, they called the Kanashuks.
“When you’re an immigrant or you’re away from home, your friends become your family,” Tetiana said.
The others saw Pezhemskiy moving in the water — he appeared to be conscious — and started working their way down the riverbank as he floated downriver in the fast-moving water.
“I have no idea why he didn’t make it,” Evghenii Kanashuk said.
Evghenii and Tetiana spent Friday morning on the phone with the Russian and U.S. embassies, with airlines and dozens of others trying to figure out how to send Pezhemskiy’s body back to his family in Russia. Their friend has to go to a remote area near Siberia, not far from Mongolia.
Those phone calls can be frustrating, but not like the call they had to make Thursday. It fell to them to call Pezhemskiy’s family in Russia to tell his parents that their son they had not seen for eight years was dead, Tetiana said.
The costs are staggering and may run to six figures. The Kanashuks launched a GoFundMe page to help cover some of the expenses.
Legacy of love and laughter
Pezhemskiy left behind a legacy of laughter and friendship, Evghenii Kanashuk said.
“He was super smart and a super entrepreneur,” Evghenii Kanashuk said.
He loved life, hockey, travel, hockey, adventure of every sort, and hockey.
Just in May he traveled to San Jose to catch an NHL playoff game, then to Boston, then Panama City beach. He averaged 40 flights a year and may have set new standards for finding travel deals.
“Did you know you can rent a Mustang convertible for $12 a day. Nikolay did that,” Evghenii Kanashuk said.
Pezhemskiy loved Blink-182, Linkin Park, punk rock festivals and had tickets for the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney this summer.
He did not do drugs — any drugs — and was allergic to alcohol and didn’t drink either.
“He knew how to live. He was a great friend,” Evghenii Kanashuk said.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”