Man drowns at Riverfest
By Cory Frolik The Farmington, NM Daily Times
May 27, 2006
A boating accident on the Animas River Friday evening sent a 3-year-old girl to the hospital and killed a 65-year-old man, according to Lt. Dan Calkins of the Farmington Police Department. All river rafting activities at Riverfest were canceled due to the accident, said Frank Flygare, president of the Riverreach Foundation.
The raft flipped on the rapids section of the Animas, throwing its riders into the river, Flygare said. He added that the raft was the last of a special procession made up of large donors to Riverfest and their families. The group was to float down the river and convene at the Marriott on Scott Avenue for dinner.
Three rafts were traveling together in a "pod," Calkins said. The first raft made it past the hydraulic dam, but the second raft got "sucked in," he said. There were seven passengers and a guide when the boat capsized, Calkins said, adding that the guide managed to grab two young passengers and hoisted them to safety.
The 3-year-old girl was picked up by a second raft but the older man got pulled back into the hydraulic dam. According to Calkins, witnesses saw the man wave as if to signal he was alright just before he went under. The next time witnesses saw him, he was floating, Calkins said. Although reports originally varied about whether one or two rafts ran into trouble, authorities later said that only one raft was involved in the incident. "It was only one accident ... a lot of people, but only one accident," said Farmington Police Officer Tom Sobolewski, who responded to the emergency. Sobolewski said it took emergency responders less than four minutes to arrive on the river banks adjacent to the scene of the accident.
George Waybenais, patrol officer, said one of the major difficulties rescuers face with accidents that occur on the Animas is that the river is "fast flowing" and victims "can move far from where the accident was called in." Farmington Police Sgt. Keith McPheeters said the girl was taken off the river near the Miller Street bridge. She had floated for several minutes before being pulled from the water, McPheeters said. The man from Albuquerque was transported to the hospital in an ambulance while receiving CPR from paramedics, McPheeters said. The young girl was treated for mild hypothermia, Calkins said.
Riverfest officials said this was the first time an accident of this nature had occurred at the event. "Nothing like this has ever happened," Flygare said. Raft rides at Riverfest are canceled on Saturday and Sunday. Refunds are available at Rocky Reach Landing at the ticket booth. The name of the victim has not been released.