Man dies in Bitterroot rafting accident
By PERRY BACKUS
HAMILTON - A rafting accident on the Bitterroot River just south of Hamilton claimed a man's life Wednesday afternoon. The accident occurred just north of the confluence of Skalkaho Creek and the river a little before 2 p.m. Three men were rafting when their boat apparently hit a log sticking out into the river, said Corvallis Fire Chief Jim Knapp. The boat flipped. Two of the men managed to get out and swim to a nearby island, Knapp said.
The third man was spotted from a helicopter in the river against a log about three-quarters of a mile downstream, he said. The man was pulled from the river and lifesaving measures were unsuccessful, according to a news release from the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office. The name of the man was withheld pending notification of his family. The man did not have a lifejacket on when he was located, Knapp said. “We did see a lifejacket upstream from him,” he said. “There's no way to know if he was wearing it at the time of the accident. It could have been knocked off when he went into the water.”
The rescue operation was the first time a new partnership between R&R Conner Aviation and the Corvallis Fire Department was put to the test. The two had recently signed an agreement that allows R&R Conner Aviation to store its Robinson R44 Clipper Two helicopter at the Corvallis Fire Station. In return, Connor Aviation gives the fire department an hour a month of flight time. Knapp said his department received the initial emergency call on the rafting accident at 1:52 p.m. The helicopter was in the air by 2:08 p.m. “The pilot (Allen Jessop) was having lunch in Hamilton,” Knapp said. “He literally left the rest of his lunch on the table.” By 2:13 p.m., Knapp and Corvallis Assistant Fire Chief Don Hall spotted the empty raft from the air. Four minutes later, they found the two men on the island. In another four minutes, the other man was located. “Within a half hour, everyone was accounted for,” Knapp said. “I'm pretty proud of that, although it's unfortunate that there was a tragedy involved.”
Knapp said the helicopter was used to guide rescuers into the scene and rescue the two men from the island. “We were worried that they might be getting hypothermic,” he said. “The pilot said he could get them. He picked them up and took them to medical personnel.” The men in the helicopter sent GPS coordinates to the dispatcher on the location of the survivors and the deceased. “We hovered right over the spot where the third man was in the river to help guide search and rescue to him,” Knapp said. “He would have been very difficult to see from either the river or the bank.” Searches along the river are often difficult and time consuming. “We've been on searches on the Bitterroot River that have lasted for days,” Knapp said. “Access can be difficult and it can be hard to see anything from the ground level.” Having a helicopter available for rescue operations in the Bitterroot Valley should help everyone involved, he said. “It's not costing taxpayers anything,” “We think it's going to be a good arrangement. ? The Bitterroot River was one of the things that we identified that the helicopter would be useful for. It's one of the most dangerous rivers in the state.”
Fly shop owner dies in rafting accident
by PERRY BACKUS and WILL MOSS - Ravalli Republic