Accident Database

Report ID# 116120

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Accident Description

I was not on the trip that had the accident and only know the details shared with the local media so far- hopefully, someone will follow up with more details. I did recently float this section of the river on June 11th with the same rafting company. They did a thorough safety talk before we went out on the water and all customers were required to wear wetsuits, PFDs and helmets. The river was very high and moving fast when we went out on 6/11 (3,000cfs versus the 1,800 cfs on the day this accident occurred).  Two fatalities, both males who were customers on a commercially guided raft trip.

 

Guide in fatal rafting incident on Nooksack said he thought victims swam to shore

BY DAVID RASBACH, The Bellingham, WA HERALD

JUNE 29, 2022 5:47 PM

The Whatcom County whitewater guide in the fatal rafting incident earlier this month on the Nooksack River told rescuers he lost sight of the 55- and 10-year-old victims after the raft flipped but believed they swam to shore.

John Coleman of Berkeley, California, and his son died June 14 when they were swept downriver after a raft overturned on the North Fork of the Nooksack River, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office previously reported. Two other female customers and a male whitewater guide who were in the raft when it flipped managed to exit the river. The son’s name has not been released by the sheriff’s office, nor was the name of anyone else in the raft at the time of the incident.

A public records request by The Bellingham Herald showed Paul M. Engel, 51, was the guide on the trip. Engel is listed as an owner of Wild & Scenic River Tours Inc., based out of Glacier, Washington State Department of Revenue records show. Wild & Scenic River Tours was first issued a license in 2007, which is currently good through 2023, according to Secretary of State records.  The Bellingham Herald reached out to Wild & Scenic River Tours for comment for this story, but phone and email messages have not been returned.

At approximately 2:59 p.m. June 14, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue deputies were notified of an overturned, commercially operated river raft in the North Fork of the Nooksack near the Snowline neighborhood in Glacier, according to the search and rescue report obtained by The Herald. Engel called What-Comm 911 dispatch to report that two male clients were unaccounted for, but Engel said he believed they were likely on shore and in the trail system west of Snowline.

Summit to Sound rescue personnel, a K-9 team, swift water rescue personnel, a drone operator, fire crews from Kendall and Glacier and local whitewater kayakers were soon called to help search for the two missing rafters, and Homeland Security later responded with a helicopter search.

Deputies spoke to Engel at the Glacier fire hall, and documents state he reported:

▪ That the rafting party included a family of four (Coleman, a woman, a girl and the 10-year-old boy) and Engel, serving as the guide.

▪ The raft flipped in a rapid known as “The Nozzle” near the Snowline neighborhood.

▪ The two women were able to get out of the river on the right side, but Coleman and his son were swept downriver.

▪ Engel lost sight of Coleman and the 10-year-old and did not see them actually get out of the river, but he estimated they were approximately 5 feet from the left bank of the river, and he believed they had reached the shore.

 

 

▪ Engel and the two female customers finished running the upper part of the river where it was believed Coleman and his son had swum. The pair were not located.

The woman customer told deputies that the raft flipped in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the trip and that after it flipped, she and the girl were on the bank of the river more than an hour and half before being rescued and continued rafting down the river, according to the report. The report did not state whether any other rafts or boats were part of the excursion and could have possibly assisted in a rescue.

Searchers and fire personnel checked the trail system Engel thought Coleman and his son may have attempted to hike out along, according to the report.

Meanwhile, swift-water technicians checked the river banks, and a drone was used to check the river and log jams in the area, the report states. At approximately 7:30 p.m., the 10-year-old’s body was found by searchers in kayaks in a log jam approximately a half-mile downriver from where the raft had flipped.

The search for Coleman was suspended until June 15, when he was located at approximately 4 p.m. downstream from the Mount Baker Highway bridge west of Glacier.

Both Coleman and his son were found wearing wet suits, river-rated personal flotation devices and helmets provided by the outfitter, according to the documents. Neither of the victims’ bodies showed any obvious signs of trauma, according to a sheriff’s office news release at the time. heriff’s office spokesperson Deb Slater told The Herald that the incident was not investigated as a crime.

On its website, Wild & Scenic River Tour lists the minimum age for whitewater rafting trips down the Nooksack River as 10, with a written release from parents or guardians. Rafting season on the river, according to the website, runs from May through fall.

On the day of the fatal incident, Nooksack River water temperatures at the North Cedarville measuring location, downriver from where the raft flipped, varied between 45 and 48 degrees, according to USGS records.

The death of Coleman and his son represent just the second fatal incident on the Nooksack River involving a commercial rafting company listed on the American Whitewater accident database, which lists injury and fatal river incidents that have been reported to the organization since 1956.

The other fatal incident on the Nooksack involving a commercial outfitter, according to the database, came July 28, 2001, when a 13-year-old member of a youth group from the Seattle area reportedly fell out of the raft when it hit a rock and was washed under the boat.

The database lists three other fatal incidents involving private vessels on the Nooksack — the death of a 52-year-old male kayaker who was pinned against a strainer near Douglas Fir Campground on March 28, 2015; two men who were pinned in a raft against a strainer on July 3, 1995; and a whitewater kayaker who swam into a strainer on July 25, 1994. Strainers are obstructions — natural or man made — that allow water to pass but retain larger objects, according to whitewaterguidebook.com. A May 30, 2016, incident that injured three paddlers in a private rafting incident was the only other time the Nooksack was listed in the American Whitewater database.

In all, the database lists 11 fatal commercial whitewater incidents on Washington state rivers since 1994 — less than one every two years — with the most recent being July 3, 2018, on the Spokane River. Health problems were listed as the cause of three of the 11 fatal incidents.

 

Bellingham, WA Herald

Body of second victim located after Whatcom rafting accident on Nooksack River

BY DAVID RASBACH

UPDATED JUNE 17, 2022

The body of the second victim who was swept downriver after a raft overturned on the North Fork of the Nooksack River was located Wednesday afternoon, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office reported Thursday. Both victims were men.

A man’s body was located at approximately 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, according to a sheriff’s office news release, after a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter found it downriver from the Mount Baker Highway bridge just west of Glacier.

The first body was located by kayakers associated with Whatcom County Fire District 19 at approximately 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 14. The young man’s body was found submerged in a log jam approximately a half-mile down river from where the raft flipped, according to Thursday’s release.

At approximately 3 p.m. Tuesday, a commercially operated river raft with four customers and a guide flipped at a rapid near the Snowline neighborhood of Glacier, the release states. The guide managed to rescue the two female customers, according to the release, but the two men were swept downstream.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office dispatched Summit to Sound swift water rescue technicians along with K9 and drone teams to search the area, according to the release. Border Patrol, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) also responded, along with a CBP helicopter, arriving at approximately 4:30 p.m.

After the first man’s body was found Tuesday, the search for the second had to be suspended due to darkness, but it resumed at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the release.

Neither of the men’s bodies showed any obvious signs of trauma according to the release, and Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined the cause of death of the first man was drowning. The cause of death of the second has not yet been confirmed, but the medical examiner believes it also to be drowning.

No other identifying information about the two men was included in Thursday’s release, and the name of the commercial rafting company also was not included.

From a local tv news report: https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/two-killed-during-river-rafting-trip-nooksack-river/DAQNAB23INHNHD46I7FL3XMXNQ/ 

"GLACIER, Wash. — The bodies of two people were found after a raft overturned on the north fork of the Nooksack River earlier this week.

On Tuesday at around 3 p.m., deputies were sent to an area near the Snowline neighborhood in Glacier after a commercially operated river raft had overturned on the river. Four customers and a guide were on board. Two females were rescued by the guide and two males were swept downstream, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.

Swift water rescue technicians, a K-9 team, drone operators and a Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue team were called for the search. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter arrived at around 4:30 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., local kayakers associated with Glacier Fire & Rescue found the body of a young male submerged in a log jam about a half-mile from where the raft had overturned.

The search for the second missing person was suspended at dusk until the next morning.

On Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., the search for the second male resumed. At 3:45 p.m., a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter found the body of the missing male downriver from the Highway 542 bridge, just west of Glacier.

Neither of the victims had any obvious signs of trauma.

The Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the young male to have died by drowning. The cause of death for the second male has yet to be determined but is also believed to be drowning.

Both victims were wearing wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets.

 

https:/www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/two-killed-during-river-rafting-trip-on-nooksack-river/ar-AAYyrLn?ocid=msedgntp&cvid=71501c65becf4d208d133ec3e663ff94

On Tuesday at around 3 p.m., deputies were sent to an area near the Snowline neighborhood in Glacier after a commercially operated river raft had overturned on the river. Four customers and a guide were on board. Two females were rescued by the guide and two males were swept downstream, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.

Swift water rescue technicians, a K-9 team, drone operators and a Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue team were called for the search. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter arrived at around 4:30 p.m.  At 7:30 p.m., local kayakers associated with Glacier Fire & Rescue found the body of a young male submerged in a log jam about a half-mile from where the raft had overturned. 

The search for the second missing person was suspended at dusk until the next morning. On Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., the search for the second male resumed. At 3:45 p.m., a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter found the body of the missing male downriver from the Highway 542 bridge, just west of Glacier.

Neither of the victims had any obvious signs of trauma. The Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the young male to have died by drowning. The cause of death for the second male has yet to be determined but is also believed to be drowning.

Both victims were wearing wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets.

 

UPDATE: Victims of Nooksack River rafting accident identified

By Joe Teehan, KGMI News

June 21, 2022

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. – The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office has identified the two people who died in a rafting accident on the Nooksack River on Tuesday, June 14.John Coleman, 55, of Berkeley, California and his 10-year-old son both drowned.

They were among five people, including a guide, who were aboard the commercially-operated raft when it overturned near Glacier.

The guide was able to get two women to safety but the man and boy were swept downstream.

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