Man killed in Vail Valley rafting accident Thursday afternoon
Attempts at resuscitation by first responders on the scene are unsuccessul
AVON — A Russian man died in a Vail Valley rafting accident near EagleVail Thursday afternoon.
Nikolay Pezhemskiy, 29, was one of five young men who started down the Eagle River in EagleVail on a crystal clear Thursday afternoon.
Not far into the group’s trip downriver, they hit a tall wave and a hole on the other side. The raft flipped and all five were thrown into the raging river. Four managed to scramble up the bank and safety. Pezhemskiy did not. The fast water swept him away.
One of the four managed to run to the EagleVail golf course to get help. He found some golfers who called 911.
That emergency call came in around 1:10 p.m., reporting that a raft had flipped in the Eagle River, and that one of the boaters was missing. Emergency crews responded in moments, scouring the area for Pezhemskiy. They found him in the river near the Eaglebend apartments.
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Emergency workers immediately began administering CPR at a spot between the river and the pool gates of the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa. Onlookers watched from the pool area and Avon’s Bob the Bridge.
However, attempts to resuscitate Pezhemskiy were unsuccessful.
As first responders and others tried to resuscitate Pezhemskiy, his four friends gathered on a grassy spot, under the shade of a spruce tree and out of the sun. They stared toward the river as they spoke quietly with Avon police and Eagle County Sheriff’s deputies who were trying to get a handle on what happened. When they were done with that, they stayed together on that grassy spot.
Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis identified Pezhemskiy late Thursday night, after his family in Russia had been notified.
The five men were on a private trip. There were all in their 20s and 30s and were properly geared up with personal flotation devices, helmets and drysuits.
Although it was rumored that the accident happened at a wave that local boaters dubbed Bob Senior near Avon’s Bob the Bridge, that’s not the case, law enforcement officials said. The accident happened east of the bridge, upriver from Avon, they said.
The wave called Bob Senior was altered and enlarged during the winter. The Eagle River is running hard through that area. That, and the location of first responders around Avon’s Westin Resort, led some to conjecture that the Bob Senior wave might have been a part of the deadly equation.
Cole Bangert with Sage Outdoor Adventures urged caution on the river.
“People have been running it, but you have to run it well. Scout it, pick your line, and run it,” Bangert said.
Rivers and creeks throughout Eagle County are not expected to peak until next week.
“These high waters can be fast and furious with strong undertows and opportunities for even the best and most experienced river runners to find themselves in harm’s way,” the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release. “Remember that accidents can happen, regardless of your skill level and on any type of water.”
Stay safe on the river
Rivers and creeks throughout Eagle County are still rising. Local authorities have these safety tips:
- Wear your life jacket and proper headgear. It’s always possible to capsize in any water condition.
- Assure that your watercraft was intended for white water travel and understand the capabilities and limitations of the raft, kayak, or other equipment that you are using.
- Know the water conditions. They change from day to day. If in doubt, get out and scout!
- Beware of Strainers. Strainers are fallen trees, bridge pilings, undercut rocks or anything else that allows the current to flow through it while holding you.
- Carry identification that includes your name, phone number, pertinent medical information, and emergency contact information in a waterproof bag. You can also store your cell phone and camera in the bag. Equipment should be labeled with a name and phone number to make it easier to return lost and stolen equipment.
- Before you leave, make sure you know where you are going. It is also a good idea to tell a responsible person about your plans of where you will be and when you expect to return.
- If it is your first time on the water, take an on-water course or travel with an experienced person who has navigated that part of the river before. Avoid water conditions beyond your skill level.
- Check the weather forecast before you leave for your destination so that you can pack the proper equipment. Dress appropriately for weather conditions. Carry extra clothes in a dry bag in case you flip and go for a swim. Hypothermia can be deadly.
- Never go boating or tubing while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Make sure you bring drinking water and stay hydrated.
- Carry basic first aid gear and learn some rescue skills. If you lose equipment, call the non-emergency number for dispatch (970-479-2200) with a detailed description of what piece of equipment was lost and where it was last seen. This helps ensure emergency responders are only dispatched to true rescue situations.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available. Nate Peterson contributed to this story.