Accident Database

Report ID# 303

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

DESCRIPTION: the Green River in Utah , upstream of Cataract Canyon , is the start of the annual "friendship cruise", a four-day trip down the river by powerboat, then up the Colorado to , Utah . The event predates the establishment of Canyonlands National Park and operates under a special use permit. The jet-boat party of David Burt, 70, Paul Shields, 77, and a third person; all were life-long friends. They were warned several times in handouts and pre-trip briefings to turn upstream at the confluence with the Colorado River to avoid entering Cataract Canyon , a difficult whitewater run.

On the second day of the trip the group gave up trying to track their position in a guidebook. Although they were warned by the safety crew to remember to turn upstream at the confluence, they were observed from an overlook turning downstream without hesitation. Next, they passed a 6'x 8' warning sign affixed to the canyon wall. Then they passed a commercial party and ran the first 21 drops without incident. At drop 22 they plunged into the huge hole at Little Niagara. Their boat capsized and was torn apart. The three men, who were not wearing life vests, were flushed through this drop and on into drop 23. One man managed to grab a floating life jacket and swim to shore; the others did not. A commercial boatman saw the wreckage and called the Park Service. They found the survivor and initiated a search. No bodies had turned up two weeks later.   

SOURCE: National Park Service

ANALYSIS: These deaths were caused by inadequate map-reading skill and a surprising lack of observation on the part of the men. It seems unbelievable that this mistake was made despite multiple warnings. The survivor states that they thought the rapids were caused by unusually high water on the Green River; once they realized their mistake there was no place to land. The group's refusal to don life jackets at this time of peril is likewise unexplainable. 

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!