Search continues for Breckenridge raft guide missing on Arkansas River
July 15, 2010
SUMMIT COUNTY – The search continued Wednesday for Breckenridge raft guide Kimberly Appelson, 23, who was ejected while rafting off duty Sunday on the Arkansas River.
“We’ve never had this much difficulty,” said Stew Pappenfort, senior ranger at Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “We’re a little baffled right now, but we’re still working on it.”
He said the number of searchers had been “scaled back” for the recovery operation. They’ve been searching the river at the Frog Rock rapid where Appelson’s boat high-sided and she was last seen, as well as other areas.
Fellow guides from Arkansas Valley Adventures – the company with which Appelson is a first-year raft guide – volunteered to help Colorado State Parks’ search efforts this week.
“We are deeply saddened by the situation, and we continue to put all efforts toward getting Kim off the river,” AVA director Duke Bradford said.
Pappenfort said search techniques have included free diving, underwater cameras, technical rope systems, boat systems and probes: “Just about everything in our arsenal.”
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The Frog Rock rapid is about 2 miles north of Buena Vista. The segment of river has been flowing at less than 700 cubic feet per second this week.
Nearby signs warn that below 1,000 cfs, there is danger of entrapment. An underwater sieve – which works like a narrow tunnel of rocks funneling water and creating higher pressures – is known for causing fatalities.
“The sieve tends to come out at low water,” Bradford said. “It’s just particularly nasty because the area is a subtle whitewater area.”
He said the water “becomes channelized,” suggesting boaters move to the right – but that’s where people often get into trouble. Signs suggest boaters either stay left or portage the rapid.
At least six people have died there since 1990, with the most recent two deaths occurring on a trip in 2001, Pappenfort said.
He said people are usually found in a few hours, or two days at the most.
“In the first two days we did as much as we thought was humanly possible,” Pappenfort said. “We’re going to search until we feel that every reasonable effort has been made to entirely explore that area where she disappeared.”
The boat Appelson was on Sunday entered the rapid with five passengers; she and a male passenger were ejected, and the man was able to hold onto the raft and pull himself back in.
Appelson was wearing a life jacket but no helmet. Other raft occupants included Rebecca Webb, 26 of Fort Collins; Matthew Weber, 25 of Fort Collins; Kyle Blakley, 23 of Boulder; and Jared Perrio, 24 of Lafayette, La., according to a report in the Mountain Mail, a Salida newspaper.
Pappenfort said the investigation is in its early stages, and it’s uncertain whether alcohol was involved.
Appelson graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in English in spring 2009, according to the university’s website.
SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.