Accident Database

Report ID# 3569

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

Accident Description

Kansas Man Dies on Colorado River

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Kansas man died Sunday afternoon on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. According to information from the National Park Service, Gary Aus, 64, of Leavenworth, was with a private river party when he and a second man were washed out of their boat in Lava Falls. The second man made it to safety. Aus was swept down river, was able to hold onto another boat for a short while, then lost his grip. His body was found about a mile down river of the falls, his life jacket up over his head. Members of his group tried CPR, but Aus did not respond. The body was taken to the Coconino County Medical Examiner's Office for further investigation.

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Grand Canyon National Park (AZ)

Kansas Man Dies In Colorado River

Park dispatch received a call from a private river runner via satellite phone on Sunday afternoon reporting a fatality on the Colorado River near Lava Falls. A medic and two investigators flew to the scene by helicopter and found the private river party and the man's body about a mile below Lava Falls. Participants on the river trip reported that two men had been washed out of their boat at Lava Falls. One man made it to safety, but the second man, later identified as 64-year old Gary Aus from Leavenworth, Kansas, was swept downriver. Participants on another boat in the group were able to intercept Aus. They said that he was able to hold onto the side of their boat for a short period of time before becoming dislodged. He told them that he was okay, though, and would swim to shore.

They temporarily lost sight of him, but then found him floating face down less than a mile downriver. His lifejacket was up over his head. Group members pulled him out of the water and brought him to shore, where they started CPR. After 20 minutes, CPR was stopped and the called was placed to the park. Aus' body was flown by helicopter to the South Rim and then transferred to the Coconino County medical examiner. An investigation into his death is underway.

[Submitted by Maureen Oltrogge, Public Affairs Specialist]


Rated one of the biggest drops in North America Lava Falls is a rapid that one expects to swim, Im certain this private rafting party scouted the drop and recognized how easy it is to flip and end up with swimmers in very big water...its named after a large flow of Lava that narrows the canyon and creates a series of lateral benches that results in a series of massive cross lateral waves, each trying to stop and spin even the largest rafts. A two raft private trip may find it difficult to set safety and adequately belay each other here...the best strategy would be to link up with other private rafts or ask to follow an experienced commercial expedition.. .asking for help setting safety... Its possible to eddy out river Rt in good position to pick up swimmers. This is a drop that demands respect and careful set up.

Sounds like these rafters decided to use a dynamic belay running the the drop a few boat lengths off each other...just far enough to avoid jamming up if a boat flips. but close enough to pick up swimmers quickly...very important in Lava...the air temp maybe 120 degrees in Sept, but the water temp is in the 60s if that...its bottom release from the dam...tremendous shock to swimmers...If a swimmer gets close to the raft there is no good reason to not immediately push them under and let their bouyancy help lift them back into the boat...this should be practiced over and over in smaller haystacks above Lava... Its tragic the belay boat contacted the swimmer and then let him separate and create such distance. Loosing contact with a belay boat is never a good idea.

I'm certain the private party checked and rechecked their lifejackets before entering Lava..its unimaginable they did not..its commands that kind of compulsive rechecking. I would install a crotch strap for doubt. That being said, this speaks to a PFD retention issue being likely contributory to this fatality, an issue we have discussed here often. Strong lubricating forces from powerful waves can easily strip a jacket and it appears a poorly fitted jacket hiked up his body and reduced his flotation. 

Mike Croslin

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