Man survives rafting accident |

Man survives rafting accident

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

BASALT ” A local man was in good condition Friday evening after being knocked out of a raft during a guided trip and spending an extended period of time in the frigid Roaring Fork River, a local rafting outfit owner said.

The man, an employee at Aspen Meadows Resort whose name and age were not disclosed, was part of a group rafting a Class III section of the upper Roaring Fork.

When the boat struck a log, he was tossed into the water, said Blazing Adventures owner Bob Harris. He spent about 40 minutes clinging to an island in the middle of the river before members of Aspen’s and Snowmass’ Swiftwater Rescue teams pulled him to shore.

He was transported to Aspen Valley Hospital. Harris said he expected the man to be released Friday evening.

“This isn’t Disneyland. When you go rafting, part of the fun is the chance you might fall into the water,” Harris said. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years. This is not the first [accident], and it won’t be the last.”

The group pushed off from Wilton Jaffee Park and were 15 minutes into an hour-and-a-half-long trip to the Wingo Bridge near Basalt when they hit the log, about a half mile from the Upper Woody Creek Bridge, Harris said. Two riders were knocked out of the boat ” while the man initially held onto the log, the other was quickly pulled into the raft as it drifted downstream.

“This log has been there ” it’s an obstacle that hasn’t moved all year,” Harris said. “Sometimes you bump into it. It depends on how aggressive the paddlers are.”

After being separated from the raft, the man hung onto the log for a few minutes, let go and floated downstream a “couple hundred yards” until he hit another log abutting a brush-covered island, Harris said. A person at a nearby house along River Road, coincidentally a former Blazing Paddles guide, saw the man and immediately contacted authorities, Harris said.

Aspen Fire Chief Daryl Grob said the initial call came in at 2:32 p.m. He and Aspen’s Swiftwater Rescue Team were on the scene seven minutes later.

“When we got there, he had been pinned up against a large log and was on a small island,” Grob said. “He managed to crawl up onto the log, then, for whatever reason, he was fairly unresponsive after that.”

Harris estimated that the water temperature was 40 to 50 degrees.

“That’s why we wear wetsuits,” he said. “With the spring runoff, that’s what we’re dealing with. … A lot of those islands get submerged, so his feet were probably wet and cold for a while.”

With responders positioned both upstream and downstream, a team of four rescuers rafted to the island, Grob said. After recovering the man, they floated “a couple hundred yards … one driveway, maybe two” to a flat part of the bank below River Road.

Aspen Times photographs show that the man’s head and neck were stabilized, and he was put on a backboard. He was then transported via ambulance to AVH.

The rescue effort, the area’s first this season, took about one hour, Grob said.

“It took some time to get there, and get him off the island. By then, he was very cold and you assume the worst,” Harris said. “I talked with the physician who said he swallowed a bit of water but nothing was broken. … He was just out there on that island and didn’t want to be.”

Rising waters have prompted Blazing Paddles to take extra precautions, Harris said. Chief among them, the outfit sends boats and kayakers down most stretches of water each morning to assess the safety.

Friday’s trip was scheduled to wind through the river’s famed Slaughterhouse Falls section below Aspen, but Harris and others decided earlier in the day that part of the river was running too high.

Harris said Friday’s accident was the result of rafting’s inherent risks, not any oversight.

“To put this in perspective, the river was running at about [1,600] to 1,700 [cubic feet per second]. We’ve run this river when it was 6,000 cfs,” he said. “We felt totally comfortable. We weren’t pushing the limits.

“Things happen in this town. People hurt themselves skiing. … Things get kicked up a notch when the water’s high. It reminds us we need to take extra precautions.”

Monica McAnally, a co-worker of the victim who was on the raft, did not return calls seeking comment. Her husband, Tonice, admitted Friday evening that he had reservations about the trip.

“I was concerned with the water being so high right now,” he said. “Of course [I asked her not to go], but she never listens to me. Maybe I should’ve done the reverse and begged her to go.”