Accident Database

Report ID# 3742

  • Other
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description


Shannan Marcak, a Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman, e-mailed USA TODAY in regard to questions about Kaitlin Kenney's death. "I'm afraid there isn't any clear answer. Identification is done, but it's my understanding (medical examiner's) report, like investigation, is not complete yet."

And so the mystery of the disappearance of a young woman who was a champion fiddler while on a Grand Canyon rafting trip in January is, sadly, not fully solved. A National Park Service press release says the body of Kaitlin Kenney, last seen on the night of Jan.11 at a Colorado River camp, has been recovered. It says that on March 21, people on a private river trip "reported finding a woman's body in the river at about river mile 165." The body was taken by helicopter to a medical examiner and later confirmed to be that of Kenney, 21, of Englewood, Colo. Kenney was on a rafting trip with friends when she disappeared during the night. There are key questions that remain to be answered. Did she fall into the freezing river while disoriented at night during a call of nature, as her mother has speculated? The Park Service release did not shed any light on cause of death. It says it is continuing its investigation in partnership with the Coconino County Medical Examiner's Office.

UPDATE: Thursday, 3:06 p.m. ET: The mother of missing Grand Canyon rafter Kaitlin Kenney, 21, is prepared for bad news. "We believe that she's probably fallen into the river, and we're just waiting for word when someone finds her," Linnea Kenney told The Associated Press. The AP story says officials have told Kaitlin's mother it could be a week or more before a body would surface. "No doubt in my mind there was no foul play," Linnea Kenney told the AP. She has postcards from her daughter saying she was having a good time "and that it was the best thing she had ever done."

Update: Wednesday, 7:22 p.m. ET: Grand Canyon National Park public affairs specialist Shannan Marcak just e-mailed about the search for missing rafter Kaitlin Kenney: "With regards to caves and our search teams: I do know that they searched everything in the area that should could reasonably have accessed with the skills and equipment she had. (And to our knowledge she had no special equipment with her.) I also don't have a specific number of people on the trip, though I'm told it was a 'large group,' and yes, I believe they were friends. Keep in mind this was a private river trip not a commercial one which means there were no guides."

This follows news that Kenney, who just turned 21, has been missing from a Grand Canyon river rafting trip since Friday. The circumstances are mysterious. The National Park Service says the private rafting party (no details given as to who or how many were in the party) reported her missing via satellite phone over the weekend. A park spokeswomen, Shannan Marcak, e-mails that Kenney could not climb out by herself. So what happened? Tuesday night, a Park Service press release says Kenney, of Englewood, Colo., "remains missing in Grand Canyon National Park; and an extensive search by the National Park Service has turned up no additional clues as to her whereabouts.

"Kenney was last seen Friday, January 11, at a river camp located near Tapeats Creek on the north side of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. "Rangers used the park's helicopter to search the river corridor and area trails for two days after she was reported missing. In addition, ground-based search and rescue teams thoroughly searched the accessible trails, beaches, drainages and back-country areas in the vicinity. "With no additional clues to guide search efforts on land, the decision was made to scale the search back to a continuous, but limited mode in which rangers and pilots will continue to search for clues when in the area. In addition, flyers with Kenney's picture and description remain posted at popular river trip launch and takeout points; and anyone who may have information regarding her whereabouts is encouraged to call the park tip line at 928-638-7767."

Grand Canyon Park spokeswoman Marcak just e-mailed me that Kenney falling into the river Friday was "as much a possibility as anything else. No additional information is available at this time." Denver's 7News TV reports that Kenney was with friends, and that a relative says she could have gotten disoriented getting up during the night and have fallen into frigid waters.

Woman's drowning at Grand Canyon remains mystery

 3  39

By Associated Press
Originally published: Aug 4, 2013 - 1:02 pm

FLAGSTAFF — Kaitlin Kenney was on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon in January when she wrote a journal entry about her deep respect for the unforgiving environment and her desire not to become too intoxicated and keep a clear head.
For whatever reason, she let loose one day about halfway through the monthlong trip, drinking alcohol. She wandered away from her group as a fire was burning at the campsite and was never seen alive again. The body of the 21-year-old Englewood, Colo., woman was found floating in the Colorado River two months later after an extensive search.
The details about the ill-fated trip were revealed in witness interviews and incident reports obtained by The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act request, and they demonstrate the dangers in consuming alcohol and drugs during camping and rafting trips in an area where help doesn't arrive quickly because of the isolation.
"They had been in the river awhile and had no problems," Grand Canyon National Park Chief Ranger Bill Wright said of Kenney's group. "I think sometimes you get to that point where you think, 'this can't hurt me.' You get a little lackadaisical because you had no problems. That's where they forgot there's still an inherent risk here."
Rafting through the Grand Canyon is a big industry as thousands vie each year for coveted self-guided trips through a lottery system, and commercial guides offer excursions through the majestic canyon walls. Cracking open beers while floating down the river or sitting around a campfire often is part of the culture on the trips, but experts say people sometimes overlook the risks of partying as they enter into the wilderness.
"Just because you're on a river trip or (in) a wilderness area, it doesn't mean all the rules of society are suspended," Wally Rist, president of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association. "That's kind of the mindset that sometimes prevails with people on a river trip, is that everything goes because we're out in the middle of nowhere."
Rafters meet with a ranger before they launch so their equipment can be inspected. They also go through a 45-minute orientation that includes safety tips such as watching out for animals, what to do if someone falls into the water or the raft overturns. The tips don't include anything specifically on drinking while rafting — anyone who is of legal age can do so.
Some groups minimize the risk of people falling into the river when they're at camp by roping off the waterline, putting a life jacket on anyone who is drinking heavily and implementing a buddy system.
The National Park Service documents show that four days before she disappeared, Kenney wrote in her journal that "drinking out of control or to the point of unconsciousness is probably the most dangerous thing we can be doing out there."
"There's so many rocks, cacti, fire pans, cold water — this environment can be very, very unforgiving. ... So on that note, I'm grateful I don't like to get super drunk," Kenney wrote.
Investigators asked Kenney's fellow rafters why she might have strayed from her normal behavior of moderate consumption, but they got no explanation. Kenney wasn't a big drinker, but "she might just have wanted to let loose," her brother, Patrick Kenney, said Thursday.
The trip presented campers with many opportunities to do drugs and consume alcohol.
Members of Kenny's group had beer, boxes of wine and shared whiskey with another group that visited their camp near Tapeats Creek. Other rafters have been known to pass around a bucket of hard liquor in the final days of their trip. Witnesses said Kenney brought mushrooms on the trip, and had eaten some in the days before she died.
Kenney was happy, dancing around a bit and smiling the last time anyone saw her. As the day wore on, her speech became incoherent and she was acting out of character, witnesses said. One man was put to bed early because he stumbled in to the river, soaking his clothing, according to the Park Service documents.
Kenney was up a half-hour earlier than everyone else the day she disappeared, walking upstream and playing her mandolin before she returned to the camp for breakfast. Later that day, the group hung around the fire and in smaller social circles. Eventually, they all peeled off to go to bed. No one realized Kenney didn't make it into a tent until the next morning.
The group organized a search and found a single set of tracks about a quarter-mile downstream from the camp. It was one boot and one bare foot. The footprints ended altogether about a half-mile from the camp. Palm prints on rocks near the riverbank made the group think someone was using their hands for balance.
When they didn't find Kenney, one of the rafters called the National Park Service from a satellite phone. Subsequent searches by helicopter and ground crews turned up no sign of her.
The autopsy report showed Kenney's blood-alcohol content was 0.11 percent — higher than the state's legal limit for driving of .08 percent. Testing of a liver sample turned up no traces of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Her body was pulled out of the river about 30 river miles from where she last was seen.
Patrick Kenney doesn't believe there was any foul play in his sister's death but thinks somebody may know something more about her disappearance.
"Maybe somebody had seen, gotten scared and didn't know what to do and didn't say anything," he said.


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