Accident Database

Report ID# 528

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold Water
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

A morning duck-hunting trip turned tragic for two local men when their canoe overturned in the Upper Colorado River. The day after Christmas, Michael Aaberg, 33, and his friend Theodore Tilley, 29, launched their canoe from the boat ramp at the Silt Water Park. The pair was floating in the Man Creek area at approximately

1:00 p.m.
when they struck a large piece of ice. This capsized the canoe, and dumped its passengers into the frigid water. Neither man wore a life preserver.
Tilley traveled about 200 yards in the river before he managed to climb out and find his way to the Interstate 70’s Rifle, Colorado off-ramp. A passing motorist picked him up and took him to Clagett Memorial Hospital. He was admitted on Saturday and treated for hypothermia.

Michael Aaberg was not so fortunate. Rescuers hoped that he too had made it out of the icy river. Knowing that the river channel west of Mamm Creek was ice covered, rescuers focused their efforts upstream. By

4:30 p.m.
Search and Rescue launched their Zodiac from the Silt boat ramp. A fixed-wing airplane searched the river from the air and located what looked like an overturned canoe on an island west of Silt.

The Zodiac, loaded with three workers and a rescue dog, headed for the island. Nearly five hours after they were called they found Aaberg’s body and the overturned canoe washed up on shore. He was declared dead at the scene and pulled from the river at approximately

7:30 p.m.
via the Zodiac. Rescuers faced some frightening moments returning in the dark and cold, fighting the river current and large chunks of floating ice. 

SOURCE: Glenwood Post

This canoe accident occurred on the Colorado River between Silt and Rifle, Colorado on December 26th. Jim Githens reported via email that two men, intending to do some duck hunting. launched their canoe at around 1:00 PM. Both men were dressed in heavy insulated clothing and boots, and chose to carry, rather than wear, their life vests. The air temperature that day was in the high 20's, and eddies and flatwater stretches were beginning to ice over. After capsizing in a Class I riffle, the two men wasted some precious time trying to retrieve their gear. One man was able to remove his coat, but the victim, Mike Aaberg, was not. His partner attempted to help him; both men reached shore, but Aaberg was too weak to climb out of the river. His partner crawled up the I-70 embankment and flagged a car. He was semi-conscious when rescued, and it was not until he reached the hospital in Rifle that authorities realized that there was a second man in the water. It was then, 50 minutes after the capsizing, that rescue squads were notified.

ANALYSIS: (Walbridge)  Even mild current can present problems to untrained boaters, and extreme cold adds a terrific element of danger. The absence of life vests at any time, and particularly during times of extreme cold, suggests that the pair were inexperienced and unprepared.



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