Pinned rafters spend more than 3 hours on island in Roaring Fork |

Pinned rafters spend more than 3 hours on island in Roaring Fork

Ryan Summerlin
A family spent about three and a half hours stranded on a logjam island in the Roaring Fork River near Aspen Glen.
Ryan Summerlin / Post Independent |

Private rafters, including two young children, got pinned Monday afternoon in the Roaring Fork River near Aspen Glen after missing a tight maneuver and going head-on into a logjam.

The river was flowing at nearly 5,000 cubic feet per second, during prime high water season.

After more than three hours of rescue efforts, emergency crews rescued the rafters around 4 p.m. No one was hurt.

The raft held seven adults and the two children. The party was stranded on a small island in the middle of the river about 3 miles downstream from Carbondale. The island was topped on the upstream side by a dangerous collection of logs, branches and debris, and their raft became trapped under the logs, according to a press release from the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.

Blake MacDougal of New Castle was rafting with his family, some of whom were visiting from Wisconsin. MacDougal said this was a simple case of “pilot error.”

“We should have stayed river left, but with the high water we thought the middle channel would be open,” he said. “This was a fun trip that went to hell in a hand basket.” The crew was also not the most experienced, he added.

When the boaters couldn’t make the move, they went straight into the logjam, whose protruding debris pierced a front tube.

Though the family waited on the small island surrounded by swift currents for about three and a half hours, MacDougal praised the search and rescue assistance. All of the emergency responders will be invited to Stubbies in Basalt, which MacDougal co-owns, for beer and food, he said.

A tethered rescue boat was used to move the rafters to another island, followed by a shallow water crossing to safety.

Garfield County Sheriff’s Department, Garfield County Search and Rescue and Basalt fire crews were also part of the rescue.

“The river is beautiful and inviting, but please remember that it is relentless,” Carbondale Deputy Chief Rob Goodwin said in the press release. “Safety in and near the river is critical for everyone enjoying all that the rivers have to offer.”

Lt. James Dirkes of Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District was one of the rescuers on the islands helping to retrieve the family members one at a time.

“Any thrill seekers who want to ride the high water need to come prepared,” he said, after everyone was safely off on dry land. “This is not a leisurely cruise; high water levels are incredibly labor intensive.”

New obstacles appear in the river during high water, such as logs and sticks and debris piling up, he said. “With excessive flows also come excessive strainers.”

“But no one was hurt today, so it was a good day,” said Dirkes.

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