One Dead, Two Injured in Boating Accident Inside Grand Canyon

By Felicia Fonseca | April 29, 2021

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — One person died and two others were injured in a rafting accident on the Colorado River inside Grand Canyon National Park, authorities said Tuesday.

A commercial river trip requested help around 11 a.m. Monday after a motorized raft overturned near Kwagunt Rapid, which has a 12-foot (3.6-meter) drop and ranks in the middle for difficulty. It’s about 56 miles (90 kilometers) down the river from where the trip launched at Lees Ferry.

A cold front had moved in with strong wind and snow on the canyon’s rim, preventing the park’s helicopter from responding immediately. Crews in two rescue boats set out later Monday and reached the site Tuesday morning, Grand Canyon spokeswoman Kaitlyn Thomas said.

A 60-year-old woman who had other family members on the trip died, and two other adults had shoulder injuries.

John Dillon, the executive director of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, said the 16 commercial outfitters permitted to operate in the Grand Canyon are making themselves available for any help with the investigation.

“The incredible unlikelihood of a motor rig accident like this, especially in this particular location and at these water levels, comes as a total and complete shock to all of us,” he said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Our hearts go out to those involved, and we ask for everyone to give them the space and time to deal with these events.”

Thomas declined to identify the deceased woman or her hometown, saying the information was being withheld at the request of the family. The woman and the injured rafters were airlifted out of the Grand Canyon later Tuesday.

Thomas and Dillon also declined to name the operator of the commercial trip and it was unclear how many people were on the raft that overturned.

“While the initial report was 17 on the raft, the only thing we know for sure is that there were 36 individuals, passengers and crew, on both rafts at the time of the accident,” Thomas said.

It’s also unclear whether any of the rafters were wearing life jackets. Thomas wouldn’t say, citing the ongoing investigation by the National Park Service and the Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“We’ll definitely be looking at the circumstances that led up to the accident and any circumstances surrounding the fatality,” Thomas said.

The rest of the rafting trip was called off, with participants either being airlifted out or hiking out at Phantom Ranch.

The woman’s death is the third this year within Grand Canyon National Park. The other two were probable suicides, with bodies recovered below the rim, Thomas said.

The Colorado River flows through 277 miles (446 kilometers) of the Grand Canyon. The commercial trips run between April and October, with a total of about 22,000 guests on 620 trips.

Private river trips run year-round and are permitted through a highly competitive lottery system.

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