Accident Database

Report ID# 2718

  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

 by The Associated Press Monday July 07, 2008, 11:17 AM

MEDFORD -- A week after a California woman drowned in the Rogue River, emergency crews in Curry County were finally able to remove her body. Cynthia Lee Vontungeln drowned June 27 after her inflatable kayak hit a rock and capsized in the dangerous Blossom Bar rapids. Her body had lodged among rocks and rescuers weren't able to reach it without putting their own lives in danger. But according to Curry County Sheriff John Bishop, natural forces loosened the woman's body from the rocks and emergency workers were able to retrieve it Saturday. Bishop told the Medford Mail Tribune: "It was frustrating. We wanted to give the family closure. Now, we're relieved." Vontungeln, 52, of Irvine, Calif., was wearing a lifejacket.

River pins woman fatally in kayak accident

Force of Rogue stymies recovery of California resident's body following the Friday accident

By Mark Freeman, Medford, OR Mail Tribune

July 01, 2008

The body of a California woman who drowned during a Friday boating accident in the lower Rogue River Canyon remained pinned underwater Monday and authorities were unsure when they could recover it.

The force of higher-than-normal water flows within the Rogue's Blossom Bar rapid have been so strong that rescue teams from the water, the rocks and the air have been unable to recover victim Cynthia Lee Vontungein's body during treacherous attempts, police said. "I'm not sure we'll be able to get her out because we can't get to her," Curry County Sheriff John Bishop said Monday evening. "We may just have to let nature take its course and see if the water drops."

An experienced rafter, Vontungein, 52, from Clairmont, Calif., and 38-year-old Michelle Shillinglaw, from Austin, Texas, were part of a large guided party floating the 34-mile section from Grave Creek to Foster Bar, deputies said. Both were wearing lifejackets, police said. At Blossom Bar, Vontungein and Shillinglaw attempted to paddle a single inflatable kayak through the class IV rapid, but they hit a rock and capsized while attempting to pass the Picket Fence set of rocks on the rapid's upper end, deputies said. Witnesses said both women initially were sucked underwater for about 20 seconds before Shillinglaw was able to free herself, Bishop said. One witness told deputies Vontungein pushed Shillinglaw free before Vontungein's body became stuck in the rocks, Bishop said. Her body remained submerged and visible about a foot underwater, Bishop said.

"Obviously, this is one of the worst (river accidents) I can remember," Bishop said. Shillinglaw was rescued and taken by ambulance to the Curry General Hospital, where she was treated for shock and released. One guide in the party attempted to rescue Vontungein, but he became stranded on a rock, deputies said. When Bishop and Deputy Ted Heath tried to rescue him in a department jetboat, the boat stalled and the pair almost had to leap into the water before Heath restarted the boat and prevented a crash, Bishop said. Two helicopters from Jackson County also aided in weekend attempts to recover the body, but efforts all failed, Bishop said.

Vontungein was the second person to drown in the Blossom Bar area in June. On June 1, a San Jose man drowned while he and another man tried to swim across the river near Paradise Lodge after their raft had drifted away. That victim was not wearing a personal flotation device at the time.


Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

It's a major sieve, according to Scott Bowman who has guided and rafted and
kayaked on the Rogue for more than 30 years.  Big boulders and years of
debris, especially ropes and raft frame parts, not to mention occasional
aluminum drift boats, from multiple incidents over many years.   The Picket
Fence is the crux move of the 45+ mile wild section of the Rogue.  Once
you're past the Picket Fence, you can run into or wrap on plenty of rocks,
but you're past the sieves.

Aida Parkinson
Supervisory Environmental Specialist
Redwood National and State Parks


Woman’s Body Recovered From Rogue

Emergency crews from Curry County have removed the body of a California woman from the Rogue River. The remains of 52-year-old Cynthia Lee Vontungeln were dislodged from a cluster of rocks in the Blossom Bar rapids Vontungeln drowned June 27 in a kayak accident. Natural forces loosened her body from the rocks on July 6th. Two BLM employees were rafting the river Saturday and found it the water and covered it with a tarp until emergency workers picked it up.

Vontungeln and 38-year-old Michelle Shillinglaw of Austin, Texas, were part of a large guided kayak party floating the 34-mile section from Grave Creek to Foster Bar. Their inflatable kayak hit a rock and capsized.

Both were wearing lifejackets, but Vontungeln was pinned in between rocks and drowned. Shillinglaw survived the accident.

Posted on 7/7/08 by Bill Jacobs


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