My group was on Smith at the same time as the accident
we were camped at the next camp down from Montanaflyfish and two of the survivors walked down to our camp to ask for and discuss help on the float out.
Much appreciation to Montanaflyfish's group for being on the spot and saving the survivors as the normally mellow Smith River was bank full of icey cold water. Smith is always cool water temps. It was a windy cool day and hypothermia was easy to experience that day.
Our group had all talked about just how cold the Smith was for our float.
We assisted by taking one of the survivors down to Heaven on Earth Ranch where he got a ride out and went home.
We talked to him at our camp and on the float down to the ranch.
He was thankful to be alive. If memory correct he had a belt on his chest waders and that made it easier to save his life as he was able to swim up to the surface and he and his buds found a small slot of beach on the cliff face to warm up. Not sure exactly how the others made it to the surface. It was a nice day but water was frigid.
The Ranger at the put in told us PFD's have to be in the boats but wearing the PFD is up to the boater.
I am a life long boater, beat up old creek kayaker not current but ACA WW Kayak Instructor and Swift Water Rescue instructor qualified. My advice to any one in a boat even on flat water is wear a PFD and have it secured to their body.
My paddle club is the Arkansas Canoe Club. ACC offers clinics on boating and rescue skills. Check our website and join the club for ACA Instructor lead training. There are other club and commercial offers, please investigate these sites and take appropriate steps to better understand procedures to make your time on rivers and water more safe.
I am a big fan of Montana Game and Fish Rangers. I am a big fan of individual freedom to choose.
ON THE OTHER HAND, my opinion is any one in a position of authority should remind people to wear their PFD while in a boat - no matter what the law states. It is my opinion (retired fly fisherman) that any one wearing chest waders should have a chest wader belt secured and some sort of inflatable PFD worn on their body. If a person decides not to wear a quality PFD that is their decision but hopefully they will think of their family, friends and possible rescue folks and make rescue much easier should something bad happens. I would like to see MT and any other state promote wearing of PFD's on the waters of their state.
These fisherman survived a near death experience that would have been a ton safer if all had belts on their waders and for sure when in a small drift boat had their PFD's on. I was told that they were relatively new to fishing from drift boats, just were not aware of the danger.
I was told the survivors lost their drift boat (pinned underwater) and most of their gear. Which proves to me that even the mellow Smith can do damage to boaters.
We had spare PFD's for the gent who rode with us and asked the the other boat to float down to the ranch in the middle of our 7 raft group just in case something happened.
The story and experience made every one in our group give thanks that the survivors made it and reinforced to us why our group wear PFD's even on lakes and always on rivers.
PLEASE wear your PFD in any kind of boat on any kind of water.