Rafter dies on Roaring Fork near Aspen
A 58-year-old man in Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic fell out of a raft Wednesday morning on the Roaring Fork River and died, according to authorities and an eyewitness.
The man, who was pronounced dead at the scene just above the Aspen Business Center, was identified by the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office as James Abromitis, who lived in Maryland. The cause of death was pending an autopsy.
Aspen Times photographer Jeremy Wallace was shooting a video for the newspaper’s website on the boat from which Abromitis fell.
Wallace said he spoke with the man and his wife before they began rafting and they told him they were in Aspen for two weeks.
“They were telling me they were going to enjoy Food & Wine,” he said.
Besides Wallace, Abromitis and his wife, the Aspen Whitewater Rafting boat also included a younger couple, an older man and the raft guide, Wallace said. The crew also was joined by a kayaker, who was acting as a safety boat, he said.
The crew put in at Stein Park, located where Cemetery Lane intersects the river, and had only been on the river for about five minutes when things started to go wrong, Wallace said. The river almost immediately becomes very turbulent after the put-in, and sometime after the second large rapid – called James Bond – the boat became stuck in a large hole, knocking the man out of the raft, he said.
Wallace was sitting in front of the man so he didn’t see the man fall out.
“I heard the guide yelling, ‘Go get him. Go get him,’” Wallace said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then I saw him float down the river in front of us.”
The raft, which made it out of the hole, and the kayaker caught up to the man, but it was in another “terrible section” of the river, he said.
“Me and another guy were trying to get him back in the boat,” Wallace said. “But he was struggling quite a bit … so it was hard to get him out.”
Finally, after 20 or 30 seconds, Wallace and the other man were able to pull the man back into the boat, he said. Wallace then looked behind him and saw the raft guide in the water asking to be pulled back in as well. Wallace did not know how the guide ended up in the river, but the crew was able to pull him back in as well.
But within a second, the boat slammed into a large log and a boulder, high-sided and dumped the man who’d just been pulled from the water, his wife and the older man into the river, Wallace said. The three were swept downriver and out of sight, he said.
Meanwhile, the raft was wedged on to the log and boulder, and Wallace, the young couple and the guide were trying to get it unstuck, he said. That finally occurred and the guide and crew were able to steer the boat to a nearby eddy, Wallace said.
The guide told them to stay put, then ran off, he said. Wallace said he sat there for a minute, then heard the older man yelling downstream and went to investigate. The man was 20 to 30 feet downriver, and when Wallace reached him he said he was able to see the kayaker downstream on shore doing CPR on the man who’d twice gone into the river.
Wallace said he went to the spot where the kayaker was, and helped pull the man back on to a rock because he was slipping back into the water. The man showed no signs of life and the kayaker said he wasn’t responding to the CPR.
“I pulled him back on to the rock,” he said. “I asked if there was anything I could do and he said, ‘No.’ So I ran up to the Rio Grande Trail and started running.”
He said he found a couple, who lent him their cell phone, and he was able to call 911. He then ran back and was able to confirm that the other two people who’d been in the water were OK.
“When I got back, the other rafters said they had called off resuscitation,” Wallace said.
Aspen Whitewater Rafting did not return a phone message seeking comment. Wallace said he was told the river was running at 1,600 cubic feet per second.
Authorities got the call at 11:08 a.m., according to a news release. The man’s body was hauled up to the Rio Grande Trail from the river about noon.
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