Accident Database

Report ID# 4044

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

Accident Description

the coroner ruled that it was a heart attack. no sign of drowning

Man dies on Roaring Fork River rafting trip in Aspen

Jason Auslander

Aspen, CO Times June 15, 2016

An Aspen Whitewater Rafting trip heads down the Roaring Fork River Wednesday morning just moments before three occupants are ejected. One of the rafters later died downriver. A 58-year-old man in town for the Food & Wine Classic fell out of a raft Wednesday morning on the Slaughterhouse Falls section of the Roaring Fork River and died, according to authorities and an eyewitness. The man, who was pronounced dead at the scene just above the Aspen Business Center, was identified late Wednesday as James Abromitis of Maryland.

Aspen Times photographer Jeremy Wallace was shooting a video for the newspaper’s website on the same boat Abromitis fell out of. Wallace said he spoke with Abromitis and his wife before they began rafting and they told him they were in Aspen for two weeks. “They were telling me they were going to enjoy Food & Wine,” he said. “It’s really sad.” Besides Wallace, Abromitis and his wife, the Aspen Whitewater Rafting boat also included a younger couple, an older man and the raft guide, Wallace said. The crew also were joined by a kayaker, who was acting as a safety boat, he said.

The crew put-in at Stein Park, located where Cemetery Lane intersects the river, and had only been on the river for about five minutes when things started to go wrong, Wallace said. The river almost immediately becomes very turbulent after the put-in, and sometime after the second large rapid — known as James Bond — the boat became stuck in a large hole, and Abromitis somehow fell out or was knocked out of the raft, he said. Wallace was sitting in front of Abromitis so he didn’t see him fall out. Video shows the guide urging the boaters to paddle hard and get out of the hole before a woman screams and Abromitis floats by. “I heard the guide yelling, ‘Go get him. Go get him,’” Wallace said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then I saw him float down the river in front of us.”

The raft, which made it out of the hole, and the kayaker caught up to Abromitis, but it was in another “terrible section” of the river, Wallace said. “Me and another guy were trying to get him back in the boat,” Wallace said. “But he was struggling quite a bit ... so it was hard to get him out.” Finally, after 20 or 30 seconds, Wallace and the other man were able to pull Abromitis back into the boat, he said. Wallace then looked behind him and saw the raft guide in the water asking to be pulled back in as well. Wallace did not know how the guide ended up in the river, but video of the incident shows the guide was able to get back in the boat quickly. But within seconds, the boat slammed into a large log and a boulder, high-sided and again dumped Abromitis, along with his wife and the older man into the river, Wallace said. The three were swept downriver and out of sight, he said. Meanwhile, the raft was wedged on the log and boulder, and Wallace, the young couple and the guide were trying to get it unstuck, he said. That finally occurred and the guide and crew were able to steer the boat to a nearby eddy, Wallace said.

The guide told them to stay put then ran off, he said. “Our guides responded immediately and pulled the guest from the water and began emergency life saving procedures,” Aspen Whitewater Rafting owner Jim Ingram said via a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “Rescue personnel arrived shortly thereafter and took over life saving measures.” Wallace said he sat there for a minute, then heard the older man yelling downstream and went to investigate. The man was 20 to 30 feet downriver, and when Wallace reached him he said he was able to see the kayaker downstream on shore doing CPR on Abromitis. Wallace said he went to the spot where the kayaker was, and helped pull Abromitis back on to a rock because he was slipping into the water. Abromitis showed no signs of life and the kayaker said he wasn’t responding to the CPR. “I pulled him back on to the rock,” Wallace said. “I asked if there was anything I could do and he said, ‘No.’ So I ran up to the Rio Grande Trail and started running.” He said he found a couple, who loaned him their cellphone, and he was able to call 911. He then ran back and was able to confirm that the other two people who’d been in the water were OK. “When I got back, the other rafters said they had called off resuscitation,” Wallace said.

Wallace said he was told the river was running at 1,600 cubic feet per second. “The safety of our guests is our company’s No. 1 priority, and we’ve had an outstanding safety record since our inception in 2004. Our guides are some of the most experienced in the state. Besides having thousands of hours of on-the-water training, our guides are also trained in swiftwater rescue, first aid and CPR,” Ingram said via the statement. “The man guiding the raft today has 23 years of rafting experience in locations throughout the United States, and the safety kayaker has 15 years of experience both whitewater rafting and kayaking.” Authorities got the call at 11:08 a.m., according to a statement. Aspen Whitewater Rafting’s statement said the incident happened around 10:35 a.m. Abromitis’ body was transported up to the Rio Grande Trail from the river at about noon. Abromitis’ cause of death will be released following an autopsy, according to a statement from Eric Hansen of the Pitkin County Cororner’s Office.

Hell’s Half Mile, Slaughterhouse section of the Roaring Fork River

June 16, 2014
Blazing Adventures
Rapids: Class IV
Water flow: 1,300 cubic feet per second

Paul Sizemore and his significant other, Jennifer Lenze, were on a belated “babymoon” in Aspen after the birth of their second child when they saw a rafting video while checking in at the Ritz hotel.

They thought they were both up for a Class IV trip down the Roaring Fork, though Lenze was nervous as they signed waivers on the bus ride to the river. Sizemore, 44, was “the most fit man I’ve ever known,” Lenze said in an interview this week, on the two-year anniversary of his death. He ran marathons and long-distance relays.

The two rafts and a safety kayaker ran the first major rapid with no trouble then pulled on shore to rest, drink water and talk about the upcoming rapid, Hell’s Half Mile.

When they started their next difficult run, the raft carrying Sizemore and Lenz stalled after going over the second ledge in a steep section of frothy whitewater. The boat momentarily “surfed,” held in place by the hydraulic hole. The raft turned left, and Sizemore and another man tumbled into the river.

Guide Michael Lewis, 42, extended his paddle to Sizemore so he could grab on, but both passengers were swept downstream.

Instead of swimming toward shore, Sizemore was looking to a guide in the safety kayak for help, the investigative report says. They weren’t able to reach each other because of the turbulent and steep shoot of the river. The guide in the other raft tossed Sizemore a rope, but he didn’t catch it.

Soon after, the three women in Lewis’ raft — including Lenze — were able to pull Sizemore back into the boat. He was “talking and awake” at first, but then his “eyes rolled back,” according to a Parks and Wildlife report.

Guides began CPR in the raft and moved Sizemore to shore. Lenze was “hysterical,” according to the report. Someone walked her upstream, away from Sizemore, to try to calm her down. Lenze says she was screaming for help, wondering why no helicopter or ambulance had arrived. Aspen firefighters, securing Sizemore in a litter attached to a rope, pulled him out of the river canyon to a bike path above, as CPR continued.

Sizemore died after being in the river for an estimated two and a half minutes, a “short but violent swim,” according to the state report.

When the water flow in this section of the river is 1,800 cubic feet per second — 500 cfs higher than it was the June 2014 day Sizemore died — Blazing Adventures takes only those 18 and older. It does not require customers to have whitewater experience.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!