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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The following is a write up of the trip in which well-known and well-liked Flagstaff river runner and Grand Canyon hiker Mary Simpson died on September 26, 2013. In the presentation of this write up, in consultation with a number of individuals including Mary’s husband Robert, it is hoped the river community can learn what not to do and what to be aware of on future river trips. Again, I am indebted to Robert Simpson for his most gracious assistance in the review of this tragic incident. Yours, tom

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The following is a rough recounting of a river trip in which Mary Simpson, a very well-known and well-liked Grand Canyon river runner and hiker, died. A large number of events all occurred on this trip, each adding to the other. This write up is intended to educate river runners about what can happen on river trips, and how to manage the rigors of a Grand Canyon river trip.

Twelve people originally planned to go on the trip, and in the end, only seven people went. Two boatmen were in their 60's with a third boatman, Mary's son Kenny, in his 40's. Kenny rowed an 18 ft. raft with Mary and Robert, Mary's husband. Robert had been the expected boatman but a damaged shoulder prevented him from rowing. Rich rowed a large heavy twenty foot Cat by himself and Paul rowed a 14ft raft with his daughter and another passenger, the permit holder. Rich had offered to bring his motor for his Cat, but the permit holder had said they did not want to deal with the noise of the motor on the trip. The older boatman had run the river before. Kenny had little rowing experience.

It was Monsoon season with rain and the river was very muddy. Getting onto-off the beaches at camp was hard due to the mud. On the morning of the second day, the boats were beached in Marble Canyon and were hauled back to the water by a passing commercial trip. Mary had a long history of emphysema, worsening in the last year. She was often cold when on the water, and very tired on reaching camp at the end of the day.

Paul hit the pour-over at the top of Hance. He and the permit holder were ejected from the raft. He swam most all of the rapid finally getting to the right bank. The permit holder was retrieved mid rapid by Kenny. One of the 14 ft. boat's oars was lost. Paul flipped his boat on the right near the foot of Deubendorff Rapid. A commercial motor trip aided in the recovery and righting of the raft. Mary and the permit holder walked around Crystal and Lava.

The day before running 209 Mile Rapid, Kenny had an allergic reaction, resulting in a rapid and complete closure of his airway, possibly due to eating some mixed nuts. Quick thinking Robert retrieved an injectable epinephrine allergic reaction pack from the first aid kit and administered an injection. Kenny recovered. Meanwhile, Rich was having difficulty rowing his boat due to arthritis, with one hand swelling considerably from the rowing. A decision was made to cut the trip short and Satellite calls were made to arrange to have the vehicles at Diamond Creek in two days.

There was a strong up-canyon wind above 209 Mile Rapid, and the group was spread out, led by Paul, then Kenny and finally, Rich. A mile above 209, the wind stopped and Robert took over the oars so Kenny could rest. Robert rowed the boat into 209 Mile, and a gust of wind blew him off course and into the 209 Mile Rapid hole. The boat flipped.

Robert and Kenny were unable to get Mary out of the water onto the overturned boat. There were no flip lines or rescue ladders. Paul saw that the boat was overturned and tried to slow his boat. There were no eddies so he had to rub his boat on the shore to slow it down. The overturned raft passed him before he could get into the river flow, and he chased the boat against the wind for more minutes. Mary had been it the water for less than 10 minutes when she was pulled out and Paul's daughter began CPR, which continued for 30 minutes.

Lessons learned:

The rapids are not over below Lava. Stay close for safety.

Have a capable rower at the oars in all rapids.

Boats should have a flip line or some sort of rescue ladder to help swimmers get back on an overturned raft in the event of a flip.

Immersion in cold water can be deadly to those with cardiac or respiratory issues. Dress to avoid cardiac or respiratory shock including either dry suits, wet suits or enough layers to limit heat loss.

If you take a person who is very ill on the Colorado in Grand Canyon, even if they are willing to accept a high level of risk, if they die on the trip, the living will have to carry on as best as they can. This is not an easy task.
 

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Sounds like people also need to assess their physical limits and abilities more carefully before taking on such a challenge in their older years and decide if it is worth the risk to themselves and others.
 

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So sad...
Every trip leader should require every participant to practice, at least once early in the trip, a reentry on to a raft from the water. Even with ladder, flip line, hanging strap loop or what ever
Your system is, it's harder than you think in moving water that's 52* F.
 

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Hi,

I was a participant in that trip.

Tom and I have already duked this out on his listserv. As usual, he had a snappy answer to every reason I advanced, for him to have restrained himself for now on this topic. So I'll keep it succinct here.

Prudence would advise against prematurely assembling a version of events that relies on interpolation/extrapolation from a limited range of information. It would be far better to wait for the complete Park investigation, which will rely on official on-river interviews conducted immediately after the incident with all participants, as well as a review of the autopsy and all evidence gathered on the river.

FWIW.

Rich Phillips
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Hi Rich, thanks for your post. I certainly apologize for not attempting to interview all the trip participants. As I posted elsewhere, if you would be so kind, when you get that NPS report, please post it here. In the meantime, folks who launch before then will have a lot more data to go on to be safe out there, which was the original intent of the post. All the best, tom
 

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Hi Tom,

My responses to the posts about this incident have been (and will continue to be) restrained, out of respect for the others on the trip, particularly Robert and Kenny. And I've deflected numerous requests by phone and email for details, largely for the same reason.

But my factual restraint also is keyed on the very principle I've been urging -- waiting for a full report. I was there, and I know what I saw -- both the tragic and the heroic. And I know the information we all exchanged during that very grim time on the river after it happened. But I don't have the full picture, and I continue to believe that drawing conclusions at this stage is premature. And as you well know, the highly generalized trip planning article I have on the GCPBA web site gives no reconstructed trip narrative, names no names, and doesn't even mention the fact there was a fatality on the trip.

But now to your most recent post.

No apology required. You know I wasn't going to get involved in any "interview", since I had already essentially conveyed that by my restrained emails shortly after the accident (when I cancelled our planned dinner stimulated by a prior exchange here on the Buzz).

You know I declined your request for me to endorse a theory you advanced barely a week after it happened -- a theory you already had formed on a key aspect of the incident.

You know I told you it would be best to wait for the official report.

Your "Lessons Learned" section points folks back to fundamentals -- that's good. And I have no problem with you or anyone else articulating things that are self-evident, for what that's worth. But from where I sit as someone who was actually there, a nuanced chain of many factors can't be readily reduced to a few bullet points.

We all know that any incident with several participants/observers will result in multiple points of view. Assembling a complete picture is best done by trained investigators with all the facts -- not a third party. If the official report elaborates in useful detail on the broad stroke picture you painted in your story, then that's fine. And no doubt you will claim once again to have scooped the river community with your entrepid reporting.That's your style.

But no, I won't be the one to post the Park report. I have requested a copy for personal closure -- nothing more. I now understand why some people find these internet "inquests" on river deaths to be ghoulish.

FWIW.

Rich Phillips
 

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Don't know anything about the referenced accident and this post is not intended to do any thing but discuss the effects of cold water on the Grand Canyon this thread brings to the message board.

I do not think most people who have not done a extended swim in the canyon understand just how fast that water takes away your strength and you pass out.

This is especially true for folks in rafts in the warm months wearing nothing but shorts, tee shirt and PFD.

I was rowing my catboat down Hance. Had a good run and celebrated at the bottom by taking off my dry top, insulation down to tee shirt, shorts and PFD. Hot day and I was rowing. My fault, but I think I drifted in to the Son of Hance hole. Catboat pitch poled me into the water but stayed up right. I hit the water, felt good and after a while caught up to the catboat and grabbed the front crossbar planning to crawl up over the rocket boxes stored there. Some time later I woke up on a friend's catboat, several of my buds working on me and somehow I was clothed in fleece top to bottom. It took a while for my buds to catch up to my raft and get me off the cross bar and into the fleece. Had they not worked fast, things would have been much worse.

First point of this story is I never felt anything, just thought it was a normal swim but totally passed out. Second one is stuff happens and no matter how experienced you and your bud's are, that GC cold water takes you down in minutes.

I am not commenting on the accident. But do want to tell my story and hope it encourages others in the GC to dress for a swim till in totally flat water and stay close to other boats especially in the rapids.
 

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I have a grand trip this coming April and it is definitely and older group. The recent threads on this fatality have me thinking a bit different than other Grand trips I have done. We all are young at heart but even with very experienced boaters I think for some getting back in a raft might not be as easy as they remember. What sort of ladders, lines etc. do people suggest to help get someone on top of a flipped raft. My concern is from reading up on this, is that the cold zaps the energy of an older person much faster than a younger one. So if an older experienced boater finds himself in the water a bit to long and is losing energy, what is easiest to get back on top.
 

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Hi Salidaboater,

I own two Netties Bags, but have never bothered to rig them again after I got first one, then a second Rescue Rung.

I've been out of the boat three times in combat situations (most recently Lava several years ago). As big as I am, as old as I am, and as bulky as my Extrasport PFD is, I was back in in less than a minute -- once to the top of an upside down cat. Rigged properly, they will allow you to equally easily get in an upright boat or on the bottom of an upside down boat.

Check this out:

Rescue Rung Self-stowing Raft Entry Ladder - YouTube

Best price will be found here, noting discount for GCPBA members:

http://gcpba.org/store-2/#!/~/product/category=2410298&id=10392790

Past Buzz discussion here:

http://www.mountainbuzz.com/forums/f15/rescue-rung-43201.html

Hope this helps.

Rich Phillips
 

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Hi Don,

Not that I ever noticed. Just as the Youtube piece shows, I use the included straps to tie them to the frame, after running the straps through one of the hand holds on the side of the tube. That does a couple of things.

It keeps the ladder tight to the side of the raft. But it also means that if the raft is upside down, the ladder isn't dangling down under water -- it's still hanging at the midpoint on the side of the tube, where you can use it to get on the bottom of the raft.

There is a bit of technique to using it, as the Youtube clip demonstrates. So I suppose first time users would do well to give it a try in calm water, just to see how to best use it.

The boat in the video has 30 inch tubes like mine, and the three rung unit I have works better on them than the two rung model. But the two rung model was perfectly OK on my NRS boats with smaller tubes.

An unadvertised benefit accrues to female passengers on those long stretches of river when they have to relieve themselves. The ladder lets people lower themselves into the water as well, if they don't want to jump. So the ladies can get in the water nice and easy, take care of business, and get back in just as easily. Doesn't mean much to us guys, but the women I've had on my boat sure seemed to like it.

FWIW.

Rich Phillips
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Hi Rich, the discussions and contemplations that are occurring here are excellent. We river runners need to know, as best as we can with as much basis in fact and with all due respect, what is happening on the river. We can then plan our future trips accordingly.

Please let me know when you get the official report, and I'll ask for one then. In the past, the NPS has had a history of not closing their investigations for a few years or never, as the report needs to be reviewed by higher ups and is never signed off on. Hence there often times never is an "official report." (Please read Paul Berkowitz's 'The Case Of The Indian Trader' for an insiders review of what can happen to NPS investigative reporting.)

No intention to scoop here, it's just that no one else appears to be researching these things and reporting back for the greater good. I personally do not think that ignorance of what is happening is a good idea. You know that with the release of information comes folks who take shots at the messenger. While that is not my style, it clearly is for others.

All the best, tom
 

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Hi Don,

Not that I ever noticed. Just as the Youtube piece shows, I use the included straps to tie them to the frame, after running the straps through one of the hand holds on the side of the tube. That does a couple of things.

It keeps the ladder tight to the side of the raft. But it also means that if the raft is upside down, the ladder isn't dangling down under water -- it's still hanging at the midpoint on the side of the tube, where you can use it to get on the bottom of the raft.

There is a bit of technique to using it, as the Youtube clip demonstrates. So I suppose first time users would do well to give it a try in calm water, just to see how to best use it.

The boat in the video has 30 inch tubes like mine, and the three rung unit I have works better on them than the two rung model. But the two rung model was perfectly OK on my NRS boats with smaller tubes.

An unadvertised benefit accrues to female passengers on those long stretches of river when they have to relieve themselves. The ladder lets people lower themselves into the water as well, if they don't want to jump. So the ladies can get in the water nice and easy, take care of business, and get back in just as easily. Doesn't mean much to us guys, but the women I've had on my boat sure seemed to like it.

FWIW.

Rich Phillips
I'll be getting a new raft sometime soon. A diminishing tube raft with 22/17 tubes. I have a bum leg, so this item looks like it would be a very nice safety item for me. Would you suggest a 2 rung or a 3 for my size boat & situation? If the 3 rung is easier to use, then I'd go with that, but I don't want overkill. Thanks for posting about this product.
 

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Hi Cataraftgirl,

I'd personally opt for the three rung, even with the size boat you describe.

I had the two rung version on a 22" tube boat, and I could get in OK -- as I think would be true for others. But when I got the three rung version, I found it was even easier to get my foot firmly in place on the lowest rung.

Having said that, even the two rung would be a signifiant improvement over other options.

Hope this helps.

Rich Phillips
 

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Hi Cataraftgirl,

I'd personally opt for the three rung, even with the size boat you describe.

I had the two rung version on a 22" tube boat, and I could get in OK -- as I think would be true for others. But when I got the three rung version, I found it was even easier to get my foot firmly in place on the lowest rung.

Having said that, even the two rung would be a signifiant improvement over other options.

Hope this helps.

Rich Phillips
Super. Thanks. I've tried a Nettie ladder and didn't like it much. This looks a lot better. Not cheap, but worth the money when you need it.
 

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Hi Cataraftgirl,

The fact the Rescue Rung is so much wider than the Nettie's cross-pieces makes it much easier to get your foot into it for the first step. And of course when it self-retracts, the entrapment hazard is gone, which is a problem with the non-retractable versions until you can find calm water and the time to re-stuff in the sack.

FWIW.

Rich Phillips
 

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One correction to the original post. Paul flipped his boat going over the table rock in Dubendorf, not on the bottom right.
Signed,
A witness to the flip and the person who took charge of snagging the boat and righting it.

This is still a very tender wound. ADMIN, can you stop this and delete this thread?
 

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One correction to the original post. Paul flipped his boat going over the table rock in Dubendorf, not on the bottom right.
Signed,
A witness to the flip and the person who took charge of snagging the boat and righting it.

This is still a very tender wound. ADMIN, can you stop this and delete this thread?
+1 for deleting this thread.
 

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Why delete the thread? I found it informational and not accusarial. I've been in this same situation (a couple times unfortunately) and just wanted to inform people what happened (asap) to hopefully help prevent future accidents. Just state what happened to the best of your knowledge and lessons learned. Post it to the AW site for future reference.
 
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