Witness: Woman stuck in Glenwood Springs whitewater park hole for minutes
Post Independent staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — An Aspen kayaker who witnessed a woman’s near drowning at the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park on July 6 said she was sucked into the hole created by the hydraulics of the water and was held there for a matter of minutes before she could be pulled out by him and other kayakers and hauled to the south bank of the Colorado River.
Marty Gancsos, who said he has been kayaking at what he called the “play park” since it was built by the city about six years ago, said that particular spot has been a problem for a couple of weeks.
“We’ve been having a bit of trouble down there for, oh, I’d say about two weeks,” said Gancsos, speaking by telephone from a rafting trip on the Arkansas River.
City officials have acknowledged that they may need to make some changes to the structure of the whitewater park, and are working to determine what the next step should be (see related story on page 3).
Gancsos, recounting the incident last Saturday, said that regular, experienced boaters have not gotten in trouble, echoing sentiments expressed by others familiar with the river.
The trouble, he said, comes when inexperienced boaters fail to heed warning signs placed upriver cautioning boaters to avoid the hole located on “river left,” or the left bank heading downriver, and instead to stick to the “river right” course that bypasses the hole.
And that is exactly what happened in this case, he said — someone either unfamiliar with the river or lacking sufficient respect for its power did not heed the signs and ended up getting trapped by the roiling waters.
“She kept getting recirculated,” said Gancsos, describing the way the powerful dynamics of the hole tumbled the woman and her boat.
He explained that the woman, who has not been identified by authorities, was in a party of three boats heading downriver through Glenwood Springs that afternoon — two “catarafts” and a small “rubber duckie” with two female paddlers.
Gancsos was watching, he said, as the first cataraft entered the whitewater park area, went over a large rock shelf at river left and into the “hole” on the downriver side of the rock, but plowed through it.
“They had enough people, enough weight, that they shot right through,” Gancsos told the Post Independent.
The next cataraft, he said, held two adults and a small child, and did not have sufficient momentum or weight to break through. They were momentarily stuck, Gancsos recalled, but their cataraft broke free as the duckie followed them in and, in turn, got stuck.
Gancsos said one of the women on the duckie let go immediately and shot out of the downriver side of the hole, as the hole was designed to do, but her boat mate grabbed onto the boat and held on.
“She was making 360s,” Gancsos said, describing the action of the water as it plunged the woman and the boat into a sort of spin cycle that had them disappearing at one end of the hole and popping back up at the other end.
“She was in there, I would say, at least five minutes,” he continued, adding that he and other kayakers had surrounded the hole a short distance off and were shouting to her to let go of the boat.
“She was in fear of her life, I could tell,” Gancsos said, though she ultimately began to pass out and released her grip on the boat, which allowed Gancsos and other kayakers to grab her and haul her to the southern bank of the river.
“Her eyes were in the back of her head,” he said of the woman’s condition once they got her to shore, “she was almost totally unconscious.” He and others administered CPR and got her breathing, he said.
Within a few minutes her eyes had opened, he said, though she was “still not responding” as police and emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene and ultimately took her to Valley View Hospital, where she was treated and released.
The Glenwood Springs Police Department has no official report on the incident, according to Lt. Bill Kimminau, and Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said he could not release the woman’s name or other personal information because to do so would violate federal privacy laws.
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