Accident Database

Report ID# 116251

  • Flush Drowning
  • Cold Water
  • Inadequate Equipment
  • Inexperience

Accident Description

LEAVENWORTH — A woman on a float tube who missed her takeout point on the Wenatchee River at Leavenworth drowned in the downstream rapids Tuesday, rescuers said.

The woman, who had not yet been named by authorities Wednesday evening, was in her late 40s, said Chelan County Fire District 3 Assistant Chief Glenn Brautaset. The fatal incident is the first drowning death on that stretch of the river this summer, and the third so far in Chelan County as a whole.

The death came amid a series of river emergencies near Leavenworth. It was the fourth of five calls for aid since Saturday involving recreationists floating the Wenatchee River and finding themselves in distress. 

"It's kind of the new paradigm that we live in up here in Leavenworth," said Brautaset, noting that drownings have increased annually in the curve of the river that surrounds the Bavarian-themed vacation town.

The fatal incident was reported at 4:47 p.m. Tuesday, after others in the woman's party saw her struggle with her innertube and become submerged in rapid water east of Barn Beach — the last takeout point for floaters before the slow river current speeds up and becomes turbulent. Her party was able to bring her out of the water, but resuscitation attempts failed, Brautaset said.

Just over an hour later, at 5:53 p.m., another float group of four teens from Virginia also missed the takeout point and required aid. Brautaset said one certified swiftwater technician with District 3, Firefighter Aaron Henry, was pulled into the river while trying to retrieve the group with a rescue line near the Pine Village KOA Campground off River Bend Drive.

"Miraculously, one of our other rescuers were able to throw him another throw line, and he essentially was the Gumby in between two ropes, holding the tether to the raft with the four victims in it," Brautaset said. "We were able to swing everybody in to shore, but it took many, many responders to create that anchor and to get everybody successfully. ... I would consider it extremely lucky, and probably one of the most daring rescues that we've had on the river at least in the last 10 years."

The incidents followed two prior Wenatchee River rescue calls near Barn Beach on Saturday and Sunday, and another Monday upriver from Blackbird Island. "The increase of calls is just exponential compared to what we've experience in previous years. It's not just an off an on event anymore -- its' a daily event, and we have to prepare for it every day."

The river calls require a lot of human resources, Brautaset said, and multiple agencies including the Chelan County Sheriff's Office, Cascade Ambulance, the Leavenworth fire district and neighboring Chelan County Fire District 6.

"It's a phenomenal team effort, and I don't know if the public understands it. ... These are pretty fast-moving events where we have to cover a tremendous amount of territory to keep up with the victims as they're going at pretty high speeds and velocity down the river."

Brautaset said river users need to be prepared when they set out to float the strong, cold current. First, wear a reliable personal flotation device. Second, be aware of river conditions and your own swimming and rafting ability. And third, don’t use cheap, easily punctured tubes and rafts when floating the Wenatchee, or any other river.

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