Accident Database

Report ID# 10033

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water
  • Inadequate Equipment
  • Inexperience

Accident Description

Teen's tubing death on Poudre River serves as safety reminder

Sarah Jane Kyle

June 19, 2017

Poudre Fire Authority Battalion Chief Brandon Garcia offers some safety reminders following a tubing death on the Poudre River. Sarah Jane Kyle/The Coloradoan

An 18-year-old's tubing death is a sober reminder to put safety first when heading out for a day of fun on the Poudre River.  Monday, a single inner tube still bounced against the low-head dam the male teenager and his 16-year-old companion hit while tubing in the Watson Lake area of the Poudre River on Sunday evening.

Less than 24 hours after he fell off his tube, loved ones of the 18-year-old gently tossed flowers into the river before leaving a small memorial at the site near Bellvue.  Identities of the males have not been released.

Dozens of emergency crews from Poudre Fire Authority and other area agencies responded Sunday evening to a report of two teenagers who had been swept over a low-head dam near where the river passes under Rist Canyon Road, west of Fort Collins.  One of those teens, the 18-year-old male, fell off his tube and did not survive. His cause of death has not been released.

A 16-year-old male on another inner tube was rescued about 100 yards upstream of where the deceased teenager was recovered.The surviving boy, who was stuck in the dam, was hospitalized at Poudre Valley Hospital but was alert and talking when firefighters rescued him. 

The rescue was the first official swiftwater rescue in Poudre Fire Authority's 235-square mile service area for the 2017 season, according to spokeswoman Madeline Noblett. Battalion Chief Brandon Garcia said the rescue and death are a painful reminder of the dangers of the river, particularly hazards such as low-head dams. 

Low-head dams are known as "drowning machines" across the country, Garcia said. They're difficult to spot from upstream and create dangerous hydraulics similar to those found inside a washing machine. "Often, people don't realize they're there until they have no place to get out," Garcia said. Once over the dam, if the tuber flips, the hydraulics of the water can keep the person in a continuous spin cycle, quickly disorienting the person and making it difficult to swim. The conditions are dangerous enough that a personal flotation device, such as a life jacket, might not be enough to save you, Garcia added. Neither boy in Sunday's incident was wearing a flotation device. 

Garcia said the safest thing to do before tubing, kayaking or rafting on the river is to survey the river to identify an exit point before low-head dams and other hazards and walk around them before continuing down the river. Garcia said there are efforts to get warning signs or buoys in place before low-head dams, but that Colorado currently has no state regulations regarding the dams.

Beyond the hazard posed by fixed structures such as low-head dams, the river is "by no means safe" this time of year, Garcia said. It's cold and it's moving fast — Sunday it was running at just more than 2,000 cubic feet per second at the Poudre Canyon mouth near where the teenagers hit the dam. Water temperature is about 50 degrees. 

Hazards such as logs and other debris are changing on a daily basis as spring runoff continues, which can further complicate running the river.  Though the water "seems very inviting" as temperatures in the Fort Collins area warm up, Garcia urged tubers to "leave it to the professionals" for now. 

For those who do brave the water, he said it's important to wear proper protective equipment, including shoes, gloves and a flotation device, and to practice safe water habits. That includes a healthy amount of caution. 

"Realize when you have the ability to say no or to get out for your own safety, (that) it's OK to get out and walk down the river," Garcia said. "It maybe doesn't work today, and August is a much better time (for tubes)." 

Previous reporting from Cassa Niedringhaus contributed to this report. 


Maximillian Lopez, 18, of Kirkland, Washington, died Sunday on the Poudre River

The Larimer County Coroner's office has released the name of the Seattle-area teen killed in a weekend tubing accident on the Poudre River. Maximillian Lopez, 18, drowned Sunday evening after going over a low-head dam while he and his 16-year-old companion were tubing the river in the Watson Lake area of the river near Bellvue.

Maximillian Lopez lived in Kirkland, Wash., about 16 miles northeast of Seattle. His grandfather, Raul Lopez, said the teenager, who went by Max, was visiting him. They had plans to get Max a driver's license.  "Nobody should have to go through what I'm going through," he said. 

The 16-year-old, who Raul identified as Max's cousin, was rescued about 100 yards upstream from where rescuers found Max. He was hospitalized at Poudre Valley Hospital but was able to speak when firefighters got to him.  Raul said he wanted to thank first responders for their work. "Without them we would be burying two coffins instead of one," he said. "I just want to thank everybody for doing their jobs."

The teens were knocked into the river after passing over a low-head dam, which are difficult to spot upstream and can quickly push people underwater and spin them around, making it easy to get disoriented and hard to swim to the surface. Raul said he wants to get a remembrance plaque and warning in place before the dam to prevent future deaths. 

Poudre Fire Authority Battalion Chief Brandon Garcia said there are efforts to get warning signs or buoys in place before low-head dams, but that Colorado currently has no state regulations regarding the dams.

The river was running just more than 2,000 cubic feet per second at the Poudre Canyon mouth, near where the teens hit the dam, and the water temperature was about 50 degrees. Neither tuber was wearing a personal flotation device.

Lopez's was the first death of the season on the river.


A teenager who fell off an intertube and into the Cache la Poudre River was taken to the hospital by a helicopter.

Krystyna Biassou, KUSA 9:56 PM. MDT June 18, 2017

KUSA - A teenager who fell off a tube and into the Cache la Poudre River on Sunday was taken to the hospital by a helicopter. Firefighters say the 18-year-old and 16-year-old were tubing together on the river when they went over a low-head dam near Watson Lake. The younger teen became stuck, and firefighters -- with the help of bystanders -- were able to pull him to safety using a rope. He was alert and talking when rescued, but still transported to an area hospital.The older boy fell off his tube, swept down river and was unresponsive when pulled from the water. Witnesses began CPR before he was flown to the hospital. Neither boy was wearing a life jacket. The older boy later died at the hospital.

The Poudre River is currently flowing high and fast in many places. The Poudre Fire Authority recommends people stay out of the water during current conditions.

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