Jackson, Wyo. – James Sawyer, 77 of Cedar Rapids, Iowa died on the section of the Snake River managed by the Bridger-Teton National Forest on Thursday, July 7, 2011 south of Jackson, Wyoming.
The visitor was a customer of the Forest’s permitted outfitter Jackson Hole Whitewater. This is the fourth commercial fatality in over 40-years of outfitted services which exceed over two million rafting clients served on the Wild & Scenic Snake River in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
“Our outfitters all have excellent safety records,” said Jackson District Ranger Dale Deiter. “We continue to encourage people and groups coming to run the river to join an outfitted trip rather than trust their lives to less experienced folks with or without the gear, training and knowledge that can change a surprise into a statistic,” he said. Whitewater rafting is an inherently risky activity. “A lot of our upsets this year are coming from Double Draw, a rapid formed in a landslide earlier in the summer,” said Deiter. “Our condolences go out to the family as they mourn the loss of their loved one,” he said.
The victim was a male in his seventies who came out of the boat at Lunch Counter rapid. His guide tried to catch him, but he was ejected in a large wave. He was pulled out of the water at a river feature known as “Champagne” where Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) was initiated. Bridger-Teton River Rangers, Star Valley Search and Rescue, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and commercial river guides and private boaters on scene all aided in pulling the victim from the water and initiating CPR in an attempt to revive him. Star Valley Search and Rescue used a jet boat to transport the victim to the Sheep Gulch boat ramp when he was put in an ambulance and taken to Star Valley Medical Center.
Many visitors to the Bridger-Teton are getting on the water not understanding that the water level is 5-times what it generally has been in the most recent years at this date, and do not check or inquire about new or certain features that come out at high water levels.
Self-outfitted organizational groups and those who drink excessively tend to have more needs for search and rescue as well as extrication and medical assistance. “We recover many people, boats and paddles when the water is higher,” said Deiter. “Many choose to continue their float downstream even though they have lost their paddles, and can’t steer, which is unfortunate,” he said.
As whitewater rafting is a physically strenuous activity, the Bridger-Teton is encouraging those that participate in this form of recreation be physically able to participate fully in the sport, and capable of aiding in their own rescue should the need arise. “If you have or have had previous medical issues that may not respond well to strenuous physical activities or cold water, make your physician, outfitter, guide or trip leader aware of the issues prior to leaving for the river,” said Deiter. Heart problems, back injuries, prior bone injuries, allergies and surgical interventions may be exacerbated when mixed with river water. It is the responsibility of all river users to inform others in their group of past or current health issues. If there is any question, erring on the side of staying off the river will significantly improve the odds of not having a river emergency for you and others.