With local waterways rising quickly due to rapidly melting snowpack, authorities were called to two separate rafting accidents Sunday on the Roaring Fork River.
The first incident, on Sunday morning, involved two people in a raft that overturned south of Jaffe Park, just upstream of the Woody Creek area. Aspen Fire Department personnel managed the incident with assistance from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies, according to sheriff’s investigator Bruce Benjamin.
The person who made the 10:45 a.m. call to emergency dispatchers said that one person was floating down the river while the other was hanging on to the overturned raft. The swimmers eventually managed to make their way to the river bank near Upper River Road and were not injured, Benjamin said.
The second, and more serious incident, occurred Sunday afternoon upstream of the 7-11 Bridge in Basalt when three rafts out of a nine-raft party overturned after hitting what’s known as a “hydraulic,” a wave created by a manmade river-rafting feature, battalion chief Jason Hutter of the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue said.
Dispatchers received a call at around 1:20 p.m. of rafts flipping and several people in the water, Hutter said. When emergency personnel arrived, three people in the rafting party were not accounted for. Soon they emerged, after at least one of them had received aid from a bystander along the river, Hutter said.
In that incident, two people were transported to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs in non-emergency mode for treatment of minor injuries, he said. In all, 13 members of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue responded to the scene, and personnel from other agencies also assisted, Hutter said.
“It didn’t take long,” he said of the accident, “and none of our personnel actually went into the water.”
Of the three rafts that overturned, one got hung up in a tree while the other two made it to the riverbank. It’s believed that the other six rafts in the party eventually got to their ending destination, Hutter said.
Both Benjamin and Hutter said now that the deep winter snowpack is starting to melt quickly, recreational boaters need to be cautious, equipped and prepared when floating fast-rising local rivers. While no one was seriously injured in Sunday’s incidents, anything could have happened.
“It’ll be a busier rafting season than it was last year,” Hutter said.
When rafting fast-moving rivers, “things can go wrong very quickly,” Benjamin added.
Neither incident involved commercial outfitters, Hutter noted.
The Pitkin County Public Safety Council has issued these tips to remind the public of the dangers of high water:
- Hazards will change on a daily basis. Always check conditions before embarking upon a rafting trip.
- Not all swift-water hazards can be seen from the surface. Even gentle stretches of water can have dangerous undercurrents.
- Debris and tree snags can trap a person underwater. Debris also can puncture rafts.
- Riverbanks can be unstable, breaking away without warning.
- Hypothermia is a real concern. Waters are colder as rivers run deeper, creating deadly situations even for strong swimmers.
Authorities recommend that all rafters wear life jackets and use high-quality equipment. They also urge sobriety and boating with friends in lieu of solo trips.