Recent accidents bringriver safety to forefront | PostIndependent.com
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Recent accidents bringriver safety to forefront

Special to the Post Independent/ Erin M. Cady Almost ready to go, Michael Otte and Fronco Peters, both of Aspen, put on their last bit of gear at the Shoshone put in on the Colorado River.
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The two drownings on area rivers last week shared a tragic similarity: neither victim was wearing a life jacket.”Too many people don’t wear life jackets on or near rivers,” said Bob Durand, owner of Colorado Canoe & Kayak on Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs. “People just don’t realize life jackets are your only hope. It’s just like if you’re in a car wreck, a seat belt is often your only hope.”For Durand, too many people don’t wear personal floatation devices when they should. He said PFD use isn’t limited to just kayakers or rafters, either. Innertubers traveling down seemingly mild sections of river need to suit up as well. And children playing in the water along riverbanks should be properly fitted with PFDs. “You should wear a life jacket if you’re innertubing or if you’re fishing from a drift boat,” Durand said. Even people standing on river banks should wear PFDs, he said. A few years ago, Durand recalled a Division of Wildlife employee who drowned after his waders filled with water while standing along the Colorado. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket. “I’m actually surprised we don’t read about more river fatalities due to people not wearing PFDs,” he said.

Terrible, valuable lessonsEvery river drowning is a terrible occurrence. However, valuable lessons can be learned from each tragedy. In the case of Parachute resident Les Normandin, who drowned June 9 while kayaking on the Crystal River south of Carbondale, not having a life jacket on contributed to his death. But there were other factors as well. The Crystal River, even during a low peak year like this year, is a treacherous river, with Class V+ rapids. “It’s simple,” said Doug Davis, public information officer for the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District, and a seasoned search and rescue member. “You don’t run the Crystal, especially at high water. You just don’t do it.”On June 28, 1990, kayaker Henry Filip was killed while running the Meatgrinder rapid on the Crystal. According to American Whitewater, a nationwide paddling organization, he, like Normandin, was boating alone.

“The American Whitewater Affiliation Safety Code recommends a minimum boating party of three people,” Davis said. “Besides that, boaters should never boat high water alone. Too many surprises happen on familiar creeks that are high for the first time in a while.”For Dale Michael Petersen, who slipped under the water June 8 while swimming out to his brothers floating on an air mattress on the Colorado River near Rifle, the river was peaking that day, hitting its highest flows of the year.And even though the Colorado near Rifle doesn’t have treacherous rapids, it does have a large concrete abutment.”Time and time again, we hear that man-made obstacles are the most dangerous,” wrote Jim Sandelar in a report for American Whitewater. “Indeed, they seem to be responsible for a disproportionate share of deaths.” PFDs should be mandatoryDurand said man-made materials on the bottom of riverbeds can also contribute to dangerous water obstacles that can snare or trap people, especially those not wearing life jackets.



“If you could drain the Colorado, you wouldn’t believe what’s in there,” he said. “Old cars, shopping carts, cable, all sorts of stuff you can get caught up in.”According to American Whitewater, in June 1986, a victim fell out of a boat on the Colorado near Glenwood and was pinned by “miscellaneous debris (construction materials, abandoned machinery or vehicles)” and drowned as a result. The rapids in the section were only Class II. Durand said people don’t like to wear life jackets “because they say they’re uncomfortable or that it’ll mess up their suntan,” he said. “Fishermen say PFDs mess up their casting.”But they’re so important, he added. “Plus today they’re so well thought out. They’re fashionable and stylish. People just aren’t that aware. There should be a state law making jackets mandatory.” Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518cclick@postindependent.com


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