Death at Union Street wave in Denver - Mountain Buzz

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Old 08-23-2006   #1
Join Date: Oct 2003
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Death at Union Street wave in Denver

A dad swimming in the river died at a common play wave in Denver two days ago. Here's the article: He died right at the main play wave at Union Street, the second drop near the parking lot. Below is a picture of the spot.

His kids were playing at the small beach there, where lots of kids often play, right above the main play wave. The kids waded out and had trouble in the current. He went out and helped them, but he got sucked down the chute that feeds into the main play wave. That was the last he was seen until his body was found the next morning, 75 yards down stream.

The water level was too low for kayak play at 250 cfs. The waves are only good at about 400-500 cfs. The eddy's down there are moderately strong at 500 cfs. Rolling can be a challenge and they can suck a swimmer under briefly, but they aren't that strong and it was only 250 cfs. There is 50 yards of flat water until the next drop.

Having kayaked there often, I find it hard to think someone could die there, especially at that water level. I've even had my 12 year old son swim there through the waves, but with a life vest on.

I surmise that the guy paniced a bit, perhaps swallowed some water, and perhaps wasn't that strong of a swimmer. The paper article also says he used a fair bit of effort to help his kids. It's probably a combination of the items.

It's a shame a kayaker wasn't around because they probably could have easily saved the guy.

One strange thing is that it is about 50 yards until the next drop. Did the dad not float back to the surface in that time, even if he was unconscious? He was eventually found just a little bit below the next drop down. Some people don't naturally float and perhaps the kids didn't know where to look.

And this happened at 6pm, 2 hours before sunset. Even if emergency rescue or people passing by had only 1 hour of sunset left when they started looking, they couldn't find the body 75 yards from where he fell in? The bushes overhand the water a bit, but you can just wade through the water.

I find it hard to believe there is a pin spot down there. I've looked at it when there was only 10 cfs and there was no apparent danger.

My take on this sad incident is that it shows how dangerous water can be and how some people don't have the instinctive responses to deal with white water. A lifevest may have made the difference, although I wouldn't expect someone playing on an innocent beach to use one. Also, a kayaker or even a person on the bike trail with a few water skills could have turned this into a non-incident. Instead it was a death.

Here's a picture from the Denver Post of where he fell in. It's not the best picture, but you have to know the spot to make sense of the picture:

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Old 08-23-2006   #2
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Not that there has been any real high water there, any change a new crack or part of concrete has shifted and created a foot entrapment. Would like to know whats in the spot now though, in for furture notice.

My thoughts and prayers to the family.
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Old 08-23-2006   #3
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As hard as all of the things mentioned above may be to believe, there it is. Yes, a little river sense goes a long way, but dont be so quick to judge. Rather, be aware, best defense. What this event points out is that events like this happen. And we dont get to know all the details.
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Old 08-23-2006   #4
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I Paddle down there quite a bit (its close to home) and there is no shift in concrete that I can tell, the eddy on the beach side has become very Powerfull (this year I have had to pull 2 young people out with my boat) I think the build up of sediment has made this eddy a bit stronger. For a swimmer without a PFD you would need to swim towards the current to get flushed out, and even if you are a strong swimmer if you are tired this could get you if you dont understand the water. I did read the article in the paper and it quoted a sheridan police officer who said "helmets and Lifejackets are recommended" I thought Lifejackets were required by state law?? No matter what the flows people need to respect the water and where a pfd. I see so many Kids that seem to think it is water world.....Its not. Prayers and thoughts with the family
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Old 08-23-2006   #5
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It's hard to imagine someone drowning there at 250,the theory about panic in the squirrely eddyline seems most plausable,even thenif you just let it feed you back into the current and wash down a short ways you can swim to the side where the eddy is weaker.Yet another case of the media being clueless about rivers ,they portrayed it as high water.Another baffling aspect is how it took so long to find him,just follow the current the eddies on river right on the two drops below Hollywood are catch all type eddies ,thats where he was.Another possibility ,he hit his head on something?
I can personally atest to the fact that strange and powerful forces exist on that drop at higher flows.Once about 10 years ago I was playing there at 1300,so were some pro teams ,Riot in thier little yellow school bus and I think Wave Sport.I got on Holywood in a ducky and got worked,, pros were cheering for me as i did a good job hanging on briefly,then the boat got completely vertical and I dump trucked out the back,right into the sweet spot it was like a siphon ,it sucked me down and violently bodyslammed me into the riverbed then dragged me on the bottom all the way to about 10 feet above the next drop.I was under long enough people started getting concerned,one dude launched into rescue mode,when I surfaced my boat was right there and I still somehow had my paddle,I jumped back in and made the eddy below the drop.2nd scariest call in 12 years boating,freekin' embarrassing to drown at Union,if your'e a boater.
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Old 08-23-2006   #6
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Go ahead and wade, good luck with that.

<And this happened at 6pm, 2 hours before sunset. Even if emergency rescue or people passing by had only 1 hour of sunset left when they started looking, they couldn't find the body 75 yards from where he fell in? The bushes overhand the water a bit, but you can just wade through the water. >

Easier said than done. The crews initially on scene and the following trained dive team members did an amazing job of searching the top three drops and the both sides of the shore line all the way down to past the drop after the last drop. There is embedded barb wire in the eddy of the top drop--deeply silted in? that could have held a body for a period of time. The water was diverted for some time prior to the night time break (at approx 12:45a.m.) and then returned to normal, hoping to change whatever was not allowing the victim to surface. He was found first thing in the morning (when the recovery operation resumed at approx 5:30 a.m.) on the sandbar in the eddy of the 2nd drop and then a "wading" rescue was performed. Divers that evening though, with 100 lbs of additional weight on their bodies were barely able to maintain any semblance of an organized underwater search pattern due to the force of the top eddy. Tough call, tough circumstances, great work by the Fire guys and gals. Just goes to show how far some good education and the appropriate gear for your environment can go. Take a SWR class this fall or in the spring. You never know when your experience combined with your education can make the difference for yourself or mates.
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Old 08-24-2006   #7
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Wow. Thanks for the additional info, retroracer. That sounds like quite a recovery effort.

I guess there must be a pin spot in the muck of the pool.
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Old 08-24-2006   #8
Join Date: Mar 2005
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While he may have been pinned on something and then dislodged with a change in flow,I'm skeptical. You mentioned barb wire but said it was in the pool ABOVE where he is known to have swum.Is it possible he washed into the catch all eddyand was floating below and concealed by the flotsam eg small logs,froth,sticks ,trash,skanky foam ,etc.,common to that eddy,add to that it was getting dark,with change in flow he moved to where he was found.
I generally respect the professionalism of the fire and rescue teams on most things,but from reading numerous accounts of river rescues and first hand experience,feel that their understanding of river dynamics is poor compared to most experienced boaters.That is understandable,we are very familiar with these forces,encountering them regularly,hell playin' in em',versus you took a 3 day course two years ago. Maybe they should employ a safety kayaker of some sort in these situations instead of jumping to the most complicated solution,LISTEN to people who understand whats going on exhaust the simpler methods first.just my 2 cents
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Old 08-24-2006   #9
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2 cents

Cayo, thanks for your 2 cents- but this is no time to be pointing fingers. The search and rescue protical is much larger than a simple body recovery. They also need to make sure they are not put into harms way. For them it's like running into a burning building.

Everyone is doing what they can to get the word out and inform the public on the real life dangers of moving water. Remember folks- we all have years of training here. Playing with moving water is second nature for an experienced kayaker, but for the average person on the street it's as foreign as reading Arabic.

Yesterday I was on the phone about six times with the folks from the Post. It finally took drawing a diagram, faxing it over, and step by step reviewing every aspect to get the art and text layout right.

When I started as lifeguard on the ocean I knew what a riptide was from stories, buy it took time for me to spot one. It took even longer to feel one starting once I was in the water. Rivers work the same way. People know they are dangerous, but they don't always see the danger. Let alone do they know how to react to it. Remember life doesn't always give you a do-over.
I love to dance, but who needs the music- It throws me off.
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Old 08-24-2006   #10
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Don, I am pretty sure that link is in Arabic but your point is well taken.
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