Man presumed dead in Big Thompson flood is alive
August 2, 2008
FORT COLLINS, Colo. ” A man believed to have died in the Big Thompson flood has been found living in Oklahoma.
Darrell Johnson, 63, didn’t know he had been counted among the 144 people who died in the flash flood that swept down Big Thompson Canyon on July 31, 1976 until he was called by canyon resident Barb Anderson last year.
In preparing for the 25th anniversary for the flood, Anderson noticed that flood records contained Johnson’s name but no other information. He was listed among six people missing after the flood and presumed dead.
Anderson said residents didn’t want to include Johnson’s name on a memorial plaque of flood victims without proof that he had died. She said she had a “gut feeling” he was still alive and set out to find him.
After initial searches turned up nothing, last year Anderson focused on one clue in the coroner’s file ” Johnson was listed as being from Tulsa, Okla. He had actually been living in Woodward, Okla.
Anderson said she found five Darrell Johnsons in Oklahoma who were 60 years or older. The first one she called ended up being the Darrell Johnson who had rented a cabin at Sleepy Hollow cabins in July 1976.
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Turns out the Johnson family left their cabin on the morning of July 31 after spending just one night because they thought it was too rustic and in need of repairs. They spent the day at an amusement park in Denver and Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant known for its performances by indoor cliff divers.
Johnson, a funeral director who now lives in Oklahoma City, said the poor condition of the cabin turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“At the time I wondered why I was so unlucky to get such a bad cabin. Now I realize how lucky I was to get that cabin. That’s what got us out of there,” he said.
The Sleepy Hollow resort was washed away in the flood but owner Billy North said she and a friend evacuated all the guests as the river rose.
How Johnson ended up on the list is still a mystery.
North said she didn’t report Johnson as missing and said the resort’s guest registry was washed away. She said she recalls a family, but not the name, checking out early and asking for directions to Casa Bonita.