On June 2nd there was a kayaking fatality on the Class III “Fractions” section of the Arkansas River in Colorado. According to a report submitted by senior ranger Stuart Pappenfort, the trouble began about a mile below the Riverside put in. David Borrell flipped and swam while kayaking along with two friends in a raft. The rafters attempted a rescue, but it was held up because Mr. Borrell asked them to pull his kayak on board first. Somewhere in the process the rafters lost sight of the swimmer for about a minute. When the pair spotted him again he was floating face-down.
They quickly pulled him aboard the raft and brought him ashore. One man began CPR while the other ran to a nearby house and called 911. Despite a prompt response from the local police and ambulance services, resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful.
Mr. Borrell had been kayaking for twenty years and had guided on the Arkansas professionally for ten. While it’s unusual for people with this much experience to die on the water, Ranger Pappenfort notes that this section of the Arkansas is often underestimated by boaters who are familiar with more difficult stretches of the river. The flow that day was 3170 cfs – high, but not extreme. Because of the drought this was the most water anyone had seen in years.
Although it’s not clear what turned Mr. Borrell from a swimmer to a floater, clearly he was in the water too long. Rescuers should always work to save people first, and the group could have improved the odds by getting Mr. Borrell into their raft before attempting to grab the kayak.