PAIR DROWNS IN QUARTZITE FALLS
Salt River 150 Miles East of Phoenix : May 23, 1993
Gradient 22 fpm; Volume high; Classification IV
DESCRIPTION: On May 23, 1993 three experienced rafters put in at the Route 60 Bridge in a 13' raft, intending to travel to Arizona 288. Quartzite Falls , a Class VI rapid, is situated twelve miles upstream of the takeout. It is a steep, river wide ledge drop into a notoriously bad hydraulic. It's dangerous to run and nasty to portage. Apparently they decided to run it.
Their run did not go well. One of the rafters fell out in the lead-in; their boat dropped over the ledge sideways with the third person hanging on. One person disappeared under the water and reappeared some distance downstream, floating face down. A second person tried to jump from the raft but was pulled back into the hole and disappeared. The survivor waited until the raft got pushed against the left side wall, then jumped clear and climbed out of the water. The bodies of Richard Panitch, 44, and Jerry Buckhold, 43, were first spotted by ranch hands in the vicinity of Coon Creek who notified authorities. The next day a helicopter was in the area searching for a raft guide who had fallen out of his raft while sleeping. They spotted someone at Quartzite Falls and carried him to safety, then tracked down the bodies.
SOURCE: Rob Reiterman; The Arizona Republic ; NORS Currents
EPILOGUE: Later that year a group of vigilantes blew up the ledge that created the hole. When caught by authorities, they said that this drowning and others had motivated them to take this action to make the river safer. Some people said that the ringleader, a former guide, didn't like making the portage. Their action found little support in the paddling community. All the men were found guilty; one man jumped bail and remains at large.
ANALYSIS: Portaging Quartzite Falls is strenuous, but it should have been done anyway. The decision to go over the drop was misguided, and once in the hole the group's prospects were bleak. A contributing factor was the absence of a second boat or a pre-positioned throw line to provide backup. A shore-based throw line might have been able to rescue swimmers or perhaps even pull the raft out.