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Overturned raft leads to warnings

Shauna Farnell

EAGLE – Several law enforcement units as well as Vail Mountain Rescue was dispatched for the season’s first overturned raft incident on The Eagle River.According to officials at the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District and Vail Mountain Rescue, a private raft with five passengers was traveling along the lower Eagle when it hit the Rodeo Rapids and flipped, throwing two of the passengers into the river.Although rescuers received a call around 4:35 p.m. Sunday and, per river rescue protocol, deployed themselves at various points downriver in order to intercept the swimmers, the two pulled themselves out of the water along the disc golf course, about a half-mile downriver, where they were tested for hypothermia and released.”That water is moving really fast,” said Chief Jon Asper of Greater Eagle Fire. “They were definitely cold. The river is really high and really fast and there were a lot of rafts out there (Sunday).”The Lower Eagle was running above 2,000 Cubic Feet per Second Sunday afternoon, a level reached in the course of about three days of high temperatures. At the end of last week it was little more than a trickle.Although nobody was seriously injured in Sunday’s incident, rescuers warn river users that water levels are uncharacteristically high and dangerous at the moment following late spring snowfall and rapidly increasing temperatures.”We’re fortunate that nobody was injured, but I think we’re in for a long week,” said Tim Cochrane of Vail Mountain Rescue, who said Sunday’s raft incident reminded him of his first rescue mission 25 years ago around Memorial Day, when five boys connected their intertubes at a calm area on the Eagle, but hit a section of rapids where they were thrown from their tubes and two were drowned.”With the warm weather and snowmelt, we haven’t seen this kind of water in the last couple of years,” Cochrane said. “And, it will get higher from here. In four days’ time, it’s come up several feet.”Cochrane pointed out how, with the recent avalanches in Summit County and other dangers related to spring weather and thawing, his team, which typically receives about a dozen phone calls every season for river-related rescues, has received a slew of phone calls in that last week and requested that non-expert river users err on the side of caution and avoid the river for the next few days.”People need to be really cautious,” he said. “We had those unfortunate two avalanches in Summit County and now the rivers are raging everywhere. (The Eagle) is probably going to peak around June 1. We just hope we don’t have any drowning victims. It seems there are uneducated people who don’t realize how quickly the water can change, even if it looks calm and OK in some areas. It’s the novice I’m concerned about – somebody who goes to Wal-Mart and buys an inflatable tube or kayak and wants to go out in the river because the weather is so warm. In July and August, you can do that. It’s fun and comfortable. But everyone should think twice. The water will still be great in a week or 10 days when it goes down a little bit.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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