Accident Database

Report ID# 3632

  • Other
  • Does not Apply
  • High Water

Accident Description

Mark Hentze was born and raised in Baker, Oregon and currently lives and works in Redmond, Oregon. Mark is a free lance photographer and writer by heart, but the job that pays the bills is as a Redmond Smokejumper. Smokejumping is a seasonal job and during the off seasons Mark has made kayaking and photography expeditions all around the globe.

Mark first traveled to Colombia in 2005 and quickly fell in love with the warmness and hospitality of the people and the beauty of the landscape. Mark has returned every year since. Colombia Whitewater is Mark’s first book.

On Tuesday March 6, 2012 Mark Hentze and I (Eneko Yarza) started the expedition at Pailania bridge in the town of San Francisco in eastern Antioquia (Colombia).

Mark and I met 2 months before in Putumayo where we kayaked together the Mocoa river. This time we met in Medellin and organized what was going to be my fifth first descent in Colombia, an expedition he wanted to do for a long time: put in at Pailania bridge in San Francisco town and run the rivers Santo Domingo, Verde and Samaná norte until the highway bridge. 35 km long with 500m difference in height, dropping 300m of them inside a canyon from km 4 to km 8 of the trip. We estimated it would take us 2 or 3 days to complete. At first the water was quiet, then it began to drop. I ran a pretty class 5 rapid and soon we stopped on the left bank to look at what was coming behind these large boulders.

A few steps later the river was falling 8-10 meters and disappearing for a few meters under large blocks. With the kayaks full of things took us time to portage these rocks. 30m downstream of the waterfall we left the kayaks and Mark said, “I want to stop here, I don’t know what is happening to me, I’m tired”. We looked at what was coming next, strong and continuous rapids and drops minimum 1km long, tomorrow would be a long portage day through the near vertical wall vegetation on the heights. While we cooked pasta two drops of rain fell so I searched a flat rock where to put the tarp as a roof. This rock was about 5 meters above the water level, we could sleep the two of us but was smaller than the rock Mark liked that was 6m in height and 10m downstream from mine. Mark said again: “What a beautiful place”. There was lightning but no rain where we were. Mark told me he was going to his big rock to sleep, and I invited him to come under my tarp if it’d rained.

Sitting on my rock with the light of the almost full moon, I was looking upstream the giant gray and dry blocks. I made the last “good night” footage at 10:05 and fall to sleep with the sleeping bag’s zipper open to hip.

10:30, second 0, awakening: A sudden roar takes me out of the dreams. I open my eyes instantly, I lift my head and see a white wall in front where before was dry. I get up at once, while I get out of the sleeping bag I shout twice to Mark, horizontal rain, I bend down to get off the rock and a wave washes over me and pulls me down.

Second 5 of awakening: The wave pulls me 2m to a rock with knee and hip and another 2m to the pool that was dry before. I am going around under the water, among stones and sand, and two thoughts go through my mind as I struggle up: “I have no lifejacket! This will be the end?” Now head out of water and find myself five feet from the left shore-wall going upriver fast towards the stream of my rock-bed on the eddy that was forming, I don’t want!, and between me and the wall my sleeping bag floating. With no thinking I put the arm over the sleeping bag and push to the wall and grab it. For that moment the water brought me up the 4m fall.

Second 10 of awakening: I grab the wall and start to climb up with legs in the water with the moonlight. I estimate that the water was rising one meter per second and climbed 10m. I go above the water and see a vine or branch far left, “will not work!” micro doubt, the water rising and instantly “Life or Death!” tell myself and I jump to it. I don’t fall and like a cat escaping from the water I kept climbing and I shelter in the vertical vegetation.

Second 30 of awakening: I’m alive! I am ALIVE! Barefoot and wet in pajamas, legs shaking. I try to breath deep. I’m 15 meters higher than I was sleeping. More noise, and the river makes another quick rise and the splashing of the waves wet me. I climb up four feet in the vegetation of the wall. There is one meter of almost flat ground, so here I stay. In the moonlight I could see the white beast, all giant rocks under water, and explosions of water were higher than where I was. Mark! Mark! I shout, but I hardly hear me. The earth and trees are trembling. I estimate the river flow increased from 15 to 300 m3/sec in an instant. I couldn’t tell this story if anything of these things were not like that: sleeping bag open, sleeping bag floating between me and the wall, fast reaction, good skills in water and rock, this vine or branch, and the light of the moon almost full, and maybe something else.

At 2 am it began to rain for 3 hours. I was very wet and cold, but those were tiny things, huddled hugged me, I just had to spend the night and in the morning seek for the road. Mark! Mark! I can not do anything.

At 6 am with the first light I came down the wall to the camp. The water was low and only 2 meters higher than yesterday afternoon. I went to Mark’s rock, but there is no trace. Mark! Mark ! At 7 in the morning, no signs of Mark, I leave. I walked barefoot almost 3 hours upriver from the shore. I find a gold digger and he says that the river is very high this morning He gave me a drink of sugar water and showed me the way, thanks.

I contacted the U.S. Embassy and police, fire. Abel, the priest and president of Pailania, let me clothes, they gave me breakfast, and began to organize the search. A day and a half after the flash flood the drowned body of Mark Hentze was found, 20 km downstream of the campsite in the Rio Verde and Rio Caldera confluence, the beginning of the River Samana norte.

Mark had lived in Colombia every year since 2005 and was the author of Colombia Whitewater , the only guidebook of rivers for kayaking or rafting in Colombia. Mark was quiet and calm, never had any conflict with anyone, and after left a good legacy. He died in his beloved Colombia, on a river that he chose, in a canyon that seemed to him fascinating and in a high flat rock he chose. That white train could have taken us both, but I got a wildcard and got away. I laugh and cry because we are ants in a world of giants.

Mark Hentze was 37 U.S. Kayaker Found Dead in Colombia

BOGOTA – The body of U.S. kayaker and author Mark Hentze was found dead Thursday in the northwestern Colombian province of Antioquia, an official told Efe. Hentze, who went missing during an excursion on the Santo Domingo River, was found after a major search by soldiers, police and paramedics, Antioquia emergency management chief Pablo Puerta said by telephone from Medellin, the provincial capital. The body was lying in the Santo Domingo near the town of San Francisco, Puerta said.

Hentze, author of “Colombia Whitewater,” a book about kayaking in the Andean nation, was camped alongside the Santo Domingo with several companions Tuesday night when the river rose suddenly and washed away part of the camp. The surge “took the kayaker, who apparently must have received a blow to the head from a rock and was missing since then,” Puerta said, adding that authorities are making arrangements to send Hentze’s body back to his home state of Oregon.

Kayaker-smokejumper from Eastern Oregon dies in Colombia flash flood

The Republic

A former Baker City man who worked as a smokejumper based at Redmond during fire season and spent the rest of the year kayaking the rivers of South America, died Tuesday after being swept away from his campsite during a flash flood in Colombia, South America. The body of 37-year-old Mark Hentze was found Thursday morning, his father said.

Mark is the son of Dick Hentze and Jan Hentze, both of Baker City, retired longtime elementary school teachers for the Baker School District. Mark’s younger brother, Brad, and his wife, Stephanie, who live at Salem, traveled to Baker City this week after learning that Mark had gone missing. Preparations are being made to return his remains to Baker City. “He and a friend were camping on a river that flash flooded,” Dick Hentze said Thursday afternoon. “There is speculation that there had been some kind of log jam that gave way.”

Hentze said his son and his friend were apparently preparing to spend the night on some rocks near the river. “It surely had to do in some manner with kayaking,” he said. The family learned Wednesday that the other man camping with Mark had hiked out, reviving hope that Mark might do the same.

Well-known Oregon kayaker and author swept away in South American river

Published: Friday, March 09, 2012, 6:00 PM 

By Kate Mather, The Oregonian

Baker City native Mark Hentze, 37, died this week in a kayaking accident in Colombia. He was born and raised in Baker City, but after a trip to Colombia in 2005, the avid kayaker and photographer couldn't get the South American country off his mind. "He fell in love with the people, the rivers and just everything about Colombia," said his father, Dick Hentze. When he wasn't working as a smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Serviceout of Redmond, Mark Hentze would paddle Colombia's rivers and explore new terrain.

Aside from a trip home for Christmas, Hentze, 37, had been abroad since November, doing what he loved, his father said. Tuesday night, Hentze camped along a remote stretch of the Santo Domingo River with a traveling companion. Suddenly water rushed through the area -- the river reportedly rose more than 10 feet in 10 seconds. The companion scrambled up a nearby bank, but Hentze was swept away. His body was found Thursday near the town of San Francisco, in the northwestern province of Antioquia.

"It was a total freak accident," said Aaron Rettig, 26, of Portland, a friend and fellow kayaker. "We identify these different risks in the sport, but you didn't think this would be one of them." Rettig met Hentze several years ago when the Oregon natives were introduced in Colombia. After several trips, including one that lasted about a year, they teamed up to write "Colombia Whitewater," a well-known guidebook that put the nation on the map for whitewater enthusiasts.

After the guidebook was published in 2009, Rettig said he was ready for new projects in new places. But Hentze wasn't. "He really never lost focus on Colombia," Rettig said. Hentze began a nonprofit, Colombia Whitewater, "to promote a positive image of Colombia," his father said. Rettig said he focused on exploring rivers previously inaccessible because of political conflict. "He'd go down to Colombia and not even have a paddling partner," Rettig said. "But he'd end up paddling with a French paddler here, a Colombian there, an American here ... He just went for it all the time."

Dick Hentze said his son, who graduated from Eastern Oregon State University and was fluent in Spanish, always had a sense of adventure. "He was raised to enjoy the outdoors," he said. "He'd been backpacking since he was four." After his ashes are brought back to the U.S., Hentze's family -- which includes his mother, Jan Hentze, and younger brother, Brad -- will scatter them in places important to Mark, Dick Hentze said. Colombia is on that list. They plan to travel there and see the places Hentze loved. "Mark wanted us to see Colombia," his father said. "We intend to honor that." Rettig said the news of Hentze's death has hit people he met hard. "It's been pretty incredible to see the support from the Colombian community," he said. "It just shows how he really made a huge impact on Colombia whitewater. That was his legacy."

Dick Hentze said he was proud of all that his son accomplished. "He was a special guy. And that's something we take comfort in," Hentze said. "He was in a place he loved doing something he loved to do. He crammed a lot of living in his 37 years."

Kate Mather and Kimberly A.C. Wilson

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!