Family safe after rafting trip goes awry near Carbondale
The Aspen Times
A group of rafters from Oklahoma got more adventure than they bargained for while on a guided trip Saturday on the Roaring Fork River.
The group was rafting from Basalt to Carbondale with Aspen Whitewater Rafting when their raft hit a log and ejected everyone on board.
Beatriz Landeros was with her two sons, David Rodriguez, 16, and Miguel Rodriguez, 11, her nephew Leonardo Vasquez, 10, and family friend Adriana Carreno on their last day of a trip to Colorado from Tulsa. The guide told everyone to paddle in sync as they approached the log in order to steer clear of it, but the boat went into a current and everyone fell out, David Rodriguez said.
“It happened so quick,” he said. “It was really intense.”
The guides were trying to figure out a plan to get Landeros and the boys, all of whom were holding on to the log or its limbs, out of the water, David Rodriguez said. Carreno had floated downstream a short distance and was able to get out.
“My son, David, tried to keep everyone calm,” Landeros said. “If my son wasn’t close to me, it would have been a different outcome.”
Brian Lodge, a kayaker from New Zealand who’s in town visiting his daughter in Basalt, said he was paddling down the river when he came across the scene and heard the folks stuck on top of the log yell out for his help.
“They looked pretty stressed,” Lodge said. “I spent the next hour and a half rescuing them one by one.”
Lodge said he was disturbed by the fact the raft guides had no way to communicate or call for help. They borrowed Lodge’s cellphone to call the company’s owners to tell them about the situation and that they’d be late making it to the take-out.
“They didn’t even know where they were on the river to try to tell the others,” Lodge said. “Just the lack of ability to deal with an incident that occurred was really quite frightening.”
Jim Ingram, owner of Aspen Whitewater Rafting, said Lodge was making “a big deal out of absolutely nothing.” He said the guides were facilitating a rescue and that Lodge came along and offered to help, so they accepted his help. The kayak rescue was a much easier option than lining the boat up to paddle out to the log and back, which is what the guides were trying to do, Ingram said.
As for the guides not carrying radios or cellphones, Ingram said they never do.
“You shouldn’t bring cellphones on the river,” he said, adding that people can’t always expect rescuers to be a phone call away while in rugged mountain environments.
“This is outdoor wilderness — everyone thinks you can phone someone and get saved,” Ingram said.
But Lodge, 63, who said he’s been kayaking for 40 years and ran a kayaking business in New Zealand for many years, said regardless of the ability to call for help, the guides just didn’t seem to have a good plan.
“They had no real idea about how they were going to perform a rescue,” Lodge said. “To jump back into the water and hold on to a throw bag was going to be a big ask.”
Ingram said the company has an excellent safety record, adding that the man who died while on an Aspen Whitewater Rafting trip less than two weeks ago on June 15 went into cardiac arrest, which Ingram claims would have happened to the man given his physical condition regardless of the rafting trip.
“It hit us hard, but there was nothing we could do,” Ingram said.
Landeros said Monday that her biggest fear while in the river Saturday was that her younger son was going to drown. She credits her other son and Lodge for keeping everyone safe.
“If Brian wasn’t there, I didn’t think the guides would have helped us out the way that he did,” she said via her son, David, translating.
David Rodriguez said the guides were trying everything they could to get them out but they just didn’t have many options given the circumstances.
“I personally felt fine, but I was still in fear for my mom and brother,” he said. “My mom looked really scared and my brother looked really nervous as time went on. … Our guide, I felt bad for him — on his face it looked like the blame was on him.”
Ingram said he floated the same section of river Sunday with his wife and two children, 5 and 8 years old. He said he was scratching his head over how the incident happened in the first place — the water was flowing at only about 1,500 cubic feet per second, and the log wasn’t hard to maneuver around — and said perhaps the guide was having trouble communicating with the group. Landeros’ English is a bit broken, but Carreno and David Rodriguez speak fluently.
“This stuff happens, unfortunately,” he said. “There is no stop button on this — you’re in nature. People just get a disconnect on that.”
The company spends about 30 minutes giving a safety talk before every trip and asks participants if they’re up for the challenge and about whether they have any medical issues. As for not having cellphones or radios, that’s part of the experience of being in nature, he said.
“People expect us to do everything, and they’re not willing to accept any responsibility for themselves,” Ingram said, adding that safety is the company’s priority.
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