Encampment River drowning: Accident report
On Saturday, June 13, 2009 at approximately 11:45am, C-1 paddler Brian Stothart, 35, from Steamboat Springs and formerly Durango, drowned while running the upper Encampment River above Riverside/Encampment WY.
A party of five, three from CO and two from WY, had merged at the put-in parking lot and proceeded downriver. The flow on Saturday was ~700 at the put-in and rising, ~1,400 at the takeout and rising.
The group traveled without incident into the drops directly above Damnation Alley, eddy-hopping and boat-scouting everything. The run was clean of any major wood. In the rapid directly above the last 50-60yds of ‘boogie water’ leading to the get-out eddy to scout Damnation, the party had stopped in various eddies. Brian entered this rapid last, and flipped in the top of the drop, rolling successfully very quickly. As he rolled upright, he passed us by and became the lead boater going into the last steep tongue drop. The drop usually goes center, or left of center into a cycling eddy. Brian elected instead to attempt to make an apparent eddy behind the large rock on river right. Previous parties have placed a rock cairn on this rock as an indicator that Damnation is coming up.
Brian’s boat was completely perpendicular to the river as he went over the drop, facing right. He appeared to hit a large fan-rock and gain quite a bit of vertical height, then he dropped out of sight. No one saw Brian exit this eddy in his boat. One member of the group, probably the farthest upstream, saw Brian’s boat enter Damnation proper upside down after a considerable time delay (15-20 seconds). At this point, the rest of the party paddled the drop, either catching the dynamic eddy on the left and getting spun several times, or taking the center run and moving downstream quickly. There was no sign of Brian at all.
At this point, the time was noted, and an intense search was begun by the remaining 4 paddlers, from shore and in the water. At 45min elapsed search time and no sighting of Brian at the accident sight nor within ~1/2 mile downriver, the decision was made to send two boaters downriver while two remained to continue searching possible pin locations. At 90min elapsed search time, the two remaining boaters ended the shore line search and proceeded downstream.
After regrouping and continuing downriver, Brian’s boat was located and retrieved approximately 5-6 miles downriver and brought out of the river. The group continued to the takeout and contacted local search and rescue personnel. Daylight constraints prevented more than a cursory ground search of the lower river.
On Sunday, a group of search and rescue personnel and two of the paddlers proceeded upstream to the accident site with search tools. Additionally, a group of 5 paddlers, including myself, paddled downstream again from the put-in. At the accident site, intensive search measures were carried out, including probe poles and grapple hooks, as well as a helicopter dispatched from a military base in Cheyenne. The party of five paddlers made the decision to continue on downstream, with the intent of trying to take as much time as we could to search possible pin locations.
Less than 300yds downriver from the right corner at the end of Damnation proper, I pulled in to an eddy at random and ran over an empty lifejacket and yellow float bag.
A full 24hrs had passed, and the lifejacket and float bag had come loose and had traveled less than 1/2 mile downriver.
At this time, Monday 6/15 ~10pm, there has been no further reported recovery. Carbon County, WY officials plan to fly the river again on Tuesday, 6/16.
It is worth noting that this accident apparently had nothing to do with any visible wood in the drop. It is also worth noting that it is probably a good idea NOT to try and catch the eddy behind the large rock on the right side in the last drop above Damnation. The large boof/flake/fan rock is undercut and backed up by a large flat rock that could prove to be harmful to any paddler landing sideways on it in an exposed manner.
Our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to Brian’s friends and family. I would have given anything for this to have turned out differently.
So many rivers, so little time..........