Accident Database

Report ID# 3133

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water

Accident Description

Texas woman drowned, report finds

Rafters, kayaker made several attempts to save Clemmons on upper Animas River

Herald Staff Writers

Article Last Updated; Wednesday, July 08, 2009 


River guides and a kayaker tried several times to save a Texas woman who drowned in Ten Mile Rapid on the upper Animas River on June 26, according to a San Juan County Sheriff's Office report.

Laurie Clemmons, 35, of Mont Belvieu, Texas, died after she and the other passengers in a raft entered the rapid backward and fell into the water. The report, obtained Monday by The Durango Herald, details the ensuing attempt at rescuing the passengers but also explains that the guides seemed to follow protocol for such an incident.

"I wasn't there and I haven't read the report, but from how it was explained to me, there's nothing out of the ordinary," said Casey Lynch, owner of Mountain Waters Rafting, based in Durango. Lynch also is spokesman for Dana Kopf, owner of 4 Corners Whitewater of Durango, the company hired by the Clemmons party.

On Monday, Kopf - who helped pull Clemmons from the water - declined to discuss the incident. He issued a news release and expressed sympathy for Clemmons' family and friends.

According to the report, Clemmons was one of four passengers in a raft guided by Candace Brendler of 4 Corners Whitewater. Clemmons fell out of the raft in Ten Mile Rapid about 1:20 p.m. The report said river guides pulled her from the water downstream of the rapid and performed CPR for 45 minutes under the direction of an emergency-room doctor who was on the trip. Ten Mile Rapid is rated a Class V rapid, on a scale of I-VI. A Class VI rapid is considered to be virtually unnavigable.

An autopsy conducted by the La Plata County coroner's office June 29 listed the cause of death as drowning with head trauma. The report said Clemmons was wearing a helmet and personal flotation device.

The day before, Clemmons successfully passed the raft company's required test on the lower Animas to make sure participants could swim defensively and aggressively and were able to grab an emergency throw rope.

Ten Mile Rapid is a treacherous three-quarters of a mile in a narrow canyon. Impelled by heavy, intermittent rain, the Animas was flowing at about 1,530 cubic feet per second the day of the incident, as measured at the gauge below Silverton. It was a "high" flow for the upper Animas, Lynch said.

Lynch said weather on the days before the trip made the conditions on the upper section of the river somewhat riskier. "There was a lot of heavy rain above Silverton that surged down the river and made it a high-flow trip," Lynch said.

According to the report, Brendler's raft entered the rapid backward. It was turned sideways when it hit a rough area. Laurie Clemmons, her husband, Michael, and passenger Jeremy Feinberg fell out. During maneuvering, Brendler's left oar broke. The three passengers were swept downstream. Michael Clemmons and Feinberg were pulled from the water. But Laurie Clemmons was unable to hold on to the rear of a kayak of a safety kayaker.

The report said once Kopf - who was on a raft downstream from Brendler - noticed Brendler's passengers were in the water, he intercepted Laurie Clemmons and grabbed her life vest, but was unable to pull her into his raft. Kopf and the safety kayaker finally pulled Laurie Clemmons from the water and took her to the bank about a mile downstream, where they began performing CPR. Dr. Jonathan Rudoit of Farmington, a member of the rafting party, took over doing CPR. Laurie Clemmons died shortly after.

"The upper Animas is the upper echelon of running a river," Lynch said Monday. "You can do your best, but it's risky. I wasn't there, but everything I have heard, I believe (the company and guides) acted properly."

Trip/Accident Report, June 26 Upper Animas River

by Dana Kopf, Trip Leader


Trip consisted of 11 clients, 3 raft guides, 3 safety boaters, one rookie guide acting as paddler, for a total of 18 people. 4 clients were participating on a one day trip and 7 clients were participating on a two day trip. Trip Leader: Dana Kopf operating safety cataraft Guide 1: Justin Bealor operating raft (clients on overnight trip) Guide 2: Candace Brendler operating raft (clients on day trip) Guide 3: Dave Lew operating raft (clients on overnight trip) Safety Kayak 1: John Wade Safety Kayak 2: Eric Sirois Rookie Guide: Jeff Knott (paddler for Dave Lew)

June 25 4:00 PM: Most of the clients arrived for safety video, gear fitting and swim practice. Two clients arrived late (Joel and Laurie Clemmons) but were given the same safety video, gear fitting and swim practice by the guides. Swim practice consists of clients demonstrating an aggressive self-rescue swim in the river and familiarity lesson with throw ropes.

June 26 5:00 AM: I checked the flow on the 'Below Silverton Gage' and it was reading 1070 cfs (a medium level). This was probably not updated since the night before. 6:00 AM: Guides arrived at shop to finish rigging.

6:30 AM: Clients on the two day trip arrived with camping gear.

6:45 AM: Guides loaded camping gear on train.

7:15 AM: Clients on one day trip arrived.

7:30 AM: Vehicles departed for Silverton.

9:00 AM: Arrived in Silverton to heavy rain.

10:30 AM: Finished rigging. Dana gave safety talk. John gave kayakers safety talk.

10:45 AM: Launched from Silverton. Each raft had four paddlers. Boats were arranged in the following order; 1. Dana in safety cataraft (point boat) 2. John in safety kayak 3. Justin guiding client raft 4. Eric in safety kayak 5. Candace guiding client raft 6. Dave guiding client raft (sweep boat)

11:30 AM: Justin had a swimmer (Diane Swan) in Snow Shed rapid (class IV). She was helped to shore by John Wade using his kayak. I was able to catch a small eddy with the cataraft approximately 50 to 75 yards downstream. The rafts were further downstream, so I gave the swimmer a ride back to her raft. We realized the river was running higher than the gauge indicated in the morning and so I reminded all clients at this point to take things more seriously and to be more active about holding on to the grab handles when necessary so as not to fall into the river.

12:15 PM: Arrived at Tenmile rapid scout on river right. We ate lunch. All guides and kayakers went to scout the rapid except myself since I was making some adjustments to my boat. Clients were offered to go scout the rapid with the guides and many of them went along but some did not wish to go (I am not sure exactly who went). After the scout we noticed that Candace's raft had a leak which we promptly repaired. The repair held and did not leak again for the remainder of the trip.

1:00 PM: Kayakers went ahead in Tenmile rapids to set in-boat safety. They eddied out on river left just below the biggest ledge-hole in the river. The cataraft and three rafts entered the rapids. I observed Justin's boat successfully navigating the rapid but Candace's boat fell behind apparently due to being 'surfed'. During this time she had three swimmers and one remain in the boat. John peeled out to stay with Justin's boat and I was ahead of both John and Justin. Eric was assigned to Candace's boat and he and Dave in the sweep raft began to assist the swimmers. I pulled over at the first available eddy approximately 0.4 miles downstream of the incident. Justin and John continued past my position.

At this time I saw Candace with only one client in her boat and only one oar available. I yelled at her to get her spare oar and then noticed a swimmer in the water (Laurie Clemmons). I pulled out of the eddy to give chase. I was able to position my boat directly over the swimmer in less than one minute from spotting her (perhaps 20 to 40 yards or so). I pulled the swimmer half way out of the water by her PFD but was unable to get her fully up onto the boat. I screamed at her to grab something and help me but she was unresponsive. I held onto Laurie for several minutes and traveled almost a mile like this in class III to IV water.

Eric was following me. I called for help. Eric approached the cataraft, exited his kayak, dropped his paddle and climbed aboard to assist. It took the two of us over a minute to lift Laurie fully out of the water so I could attempt to row to shore. During this time we passed a raft eddied out on river left (I believe it was Justin's raft) and we both called for help. John Wade then followed us in his kayak. Shortly thereafter I regained control of the oars and rowed to a small eddy on river right.

We moved the victim to shore and John immediately began CPR after removing her PFD and helmet. Shortly thereafter Dr Jon Rudolf, an ER doctor who was a client, assisted John with CPR. Other guides rotated in to give CPR for almost 45 minutes. According to Justin, Dr Rudolf said CPR was administered properly and he also made the call that we should stop. In talking with Eric, he informed me that he had helped Laurie toshore at least three times with his kayak, and insisted she grab something and get out - but each time she lost strength and went back into the current. In talking with Dave he informed me that he saw all three swimmers but went after Joel and Jeremy since he saw that Laurie was close to Eric's kayak.

~2:45 PM: We made contact with railroad personnel and informed them of our situation. Then sent a coroner and sheriff to the scene.

~4:15 PM: All clients and the victim were placed on the last train returning from Silverton to Durango.

~7:00 - 7:30 PM: Train arrived in Durango and victim was turned over to sheriff's office personnel. Gear involved in accident was set aside for inspection.

River victim identified


Herald Staff Report

Article Last Updated; Sunday, June 28, 2009

The 35-year-old mother of three who died on the upper Animas River on Friday has been identified as Laurie Clemmons of Texas. San Juan County Undersheriff Kristine Burns confirmed the woman's name Saturday. McCloskey said an autopsy will be conducted Monday by the La Plata County coroner's office.She also said the Colorado State Parks is investigating the incident

.Clemmons fell into the river going through Ten Mile Rapid. Raft guides pulled her out and performed CPR on her for 45 minutes.An emergency room doctor in the group declared her dead at 2:10 p.m. Friday, Burns said.

The woman's children are 10, 7 and 3 years old. She was on a trip led by 4 Corners Whitewater, Burns said. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad helped transport the rafting party after the incident Friday. 

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