River runners keep rescuers busy | AspenTimes.com

River runners keep rescuers busy

Sharon Sullivan
Grand Junction correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
The Colorado River is wide, but the current plenty strong, as it flows through the Grand Junction area. Rafting accidents keep rescuers busy each summer. (Marija B. Vader)

GRAND JUNCTION ” Every year, people drown in Grand Junction’s waterways. This year is no exception.

Already in 2007, four bodies have been pulled from the Colorado River in the vicinity of the western Colorado city and a fifth person died at St. Mary’s Hospital after a rafting accident Sunday on the Colorado.

“Summertime heat, alcohol, and improper rafting equipment usually spells a bad situation,” said Mike Page, public information officer for the Grand Junction Fire Department. “I don’t think people realize how dangerous and powerful the river can be.”

The most common call for help to Mesa County Search and Rescue and the various valley fire departments in the summertime involves missing rafters.

Accidents most often occur because rafts are homemade from inner tubes and other inflatables, and are not designed to use on the river. Exacerbating the situation is the consumption of alcohol and failure to wear life jackets, Page said.

“Yesterday (Sunday) when we were on the rescue, we saw folks in inner tubes which are difficult to control and not designed for river rafting,” Page said.

Inflatable swimming pools are also used as makeshift rafts, regulary necessitating a rescue.

The parties rescued Sunday were better equipped than most, Page said. They got in trouble when they got too close to the shore, where a tree limb was sticking out in the water. Caught under water by the obstruction, a woman in the group stopped breathing and her pulse ceased.

Despite the preparations by her group of rafters, the woman died Monday from drowning.

“Even people equipped can have trouble,” Page said.

“Generally people with life jackets we’re able to find and rescue. Even though the river seems nice and calm, life jackets are critical,” he added.

In the springtime, hypothermia is an added risk when someone falls into the Colorado River, which is frigid from the snowmelt of spring runoff.

Jumping into the river from bridges is another risk some people take during the summer. Page discourages it.

“You can’t see hidden objects, like logs. You can’t tell how deep it is when the water is murky,” Page said. “The water is kind of like hitting concrete.”

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