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Accident Description


Colorado River near , UT: April 27, 1993

Gradient 25 fpm; Volume 19,000 cfs(med-hi); Classification IV

DESCRIPTION: Cataract Canyon is one of the west's classic big-water runs. Richard Matthews, 46, was one of two passengers in an oar-powered raft paddled by a very experienced boatman. There were seven other boats in the party. The victim's raft ran Drop 22 a bit far right. It flipped after hitting Little Niagara Rock, throwing everyone into the water. The oarsman climbed back in his boat immediately but Mathews was washed under the boat. The oarsman then pulled Matthews back in with some difficulty in the tail waves, but he lost an oar and could not control his raft. Next, they were washed into rapid 23 and over a huge pourover called Satan's Gut. They flipped again. One passenger swam to shore; the boatman climbed back into his boat with difficulty and got ashore above Rapid 24. Matthews was carried downstream; he said at the top of Rapid 24 that he was too tired to swim any more. His body was found 1.2 miles downstream, below Rapid 25, floating face-up but not breathing. CPR was attempted without success. 

SOURCE: National Park Service; NORS Currents

ANALYSIS: Park service reports state that although Mathews was wearing a wetsuit, he was overweight and in poor physical condition. Water temperature was 55°; the victim was wearing a farmer john wetsuit and T-shirt. His blood alcohol was measured at .07, below the .1 level needed to be legally drunk but enough to be impaired during a life-and-death struggle with the river. Alcohol reduces a person's strength and judgment and makes them more vulnerable to hypothermia. The other boats were involved in another rescue and could not provide backup.