Accident Database

Report ID# 8324


Accident Description

possible cold water cardio shock. FYI, tom Date: April 24, 2017 Contact: Emily Davis, 928-638-7609

Grand Canyon, AZ – At approximately 12 pm on Sunday, April 23, Grand Canyon National Park was alerted to a personal locator beacon activation near Hance Rapid on the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center then received a satellite phone call from a private boating trip in the same location reporting CPR in progress.

Jimmie Blair, 69, of New Meadows, Idaho, entered the river above Hance Rapid, Colorado River Mile 77. Members of the party pulled him out of the water and began CPR. Park rangers were flown into the location with the park helicopter. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. Blair was on day nine of a multi-day private boating trip.

An investigation is being conducted by the National Park Service and the Coconino County Medical Examiner. No further information is available at this time.


Fatality on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon, AZ – At approximately 12 pm on Sunday, April 23, Grand Canyon National Park was alerted to a personal locator beacon activation near Hance Rapid on the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center then received a satellite call from a private boating trip in the same location reporting CPR in progress.
Jimmie Blair, 69, of New Meadows, Idaho, entered the river above Hance Rapid, Colorado River Mile 77. Members of the party pulled him out of the water and began CPR. Park rangers were flown into the location with the park helicopter. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. Blair was on day nine of a multi-day private boating trip.
An investigation is being conducted by the National Park Service and the Coconino County Medical Examiner. No additional information is available at this time.


A Preliminary Recounting of Norovirus, a Broken Fibula

and a Fatality with Lessons Learned

A group of experienced river runners launched from Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, on Friday, April 14, 2017. The group of sixteen people had nine rafts and were on a do-it-yourself river trip. One of the trip participants included James “Jimmie” Blair, 69, of New Meadows, Idaho. Blair owned a raft guiding business and led fishing trips on the Salmon River in Idaho. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, son, and other acquaintances.

On the second day of the trip, one of the group members came down with what appeared to be a norovirus type intestinal illness. Norovirus is the most common gastrointestinal virus on the planet. This highly contagious virus or something similar has been plaguing river trips in Grand Canyon for decades. The symptoms varied from vomiting in one individual, to a combination of vomiting and diarrhea in nine others, along with fatigue.

At any one time, at least three of the trip members were infected with the disease. Ten out of the sixteen people had symptoms. Boat rowers who were sick were replaced by less experienced members of the crew without incident. The group made short days on the water and followed as many sanitary precautions as possible in the field.

On the fifth day of the trip, the group stopped at Nautiloid Canyon, pulling in above a small riffle where a cliff went directly into the Colorado River. On returning from a hike at Nautiloid, Blair’s 32-year-old son decided to jump roughly thirty feet into the river below. Blair’s son, an experienced high distance cliff jumper, was accustomed to jumping 30 to 60 feet drops into standing water. The water appeared deep enough, but was shallower than anticipated, and the man sustained a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle when he hit the river bottom.

The group had two In Reach communication systems and the injured man was helicoptered out of the canyon later in the day from Lower Buck Farm Camp. When the group was above Buck Farm, the elder Blair came down with the intestinal disease. By the time the group reached Hance Rapid on Sunday, April 23, everyone had recovered, including Blair.

The group scouted Hance on river left, and watched another do-it-yourself group run the rapid. Blair walked along the left shore to look the rapid over. As one of the more experienced members of the trip, Blair was running in the sweep position, the last boat of the group. Blair was rowing a heavily loaded 16-foot self-bailing raft with his girlfriend accompanying him as a passenger. Blair donned a shorty wet suit and helmet before rowing away from shore.

According to trip participants, Blair rowed his boat across the river and entered the right side of the rapid where he went over a pour-over that threw him out of the boat. His passenger remained in the upright boat. Blair was approached by another member of his party in the midst of the rapid, a lone person in a 16-foot raft. The boat rower attempted to get Blair out of the water, and was unable to do so finding no lifejacket straps at Blair’s shoulders to grab on to. At that point, the boat hit a series of rocks, broke an oar, and Blair lost his hold on the boat.

It then appeared to others that Blair was attempting to swim to shore, but went underwater for an extended period of time in the rough water below Hance Rapid known as Son of Hance . He was then seen face down in the water.

One of the trip members entered the river and retrieved the now unresponsive man and swam him to shore. Cardio pulmonary resuscitation was immediately started, overseen by a nurse and doctor on the trip. After 45 minutes, this was discontinued. Just below Hance, Blair’s lifejacket was recovered, unbuckled.

It is surmised that Blair may have simply forgotten to put his lifejacket on after scouting the rapid. On his trips on the Salmon, Blair was known for wearing his lifejacket at all times, even on flat water. On this Grand Canyon river trip, he was never seen on the water not wearing his life jacket until his swim in Hance.

Blair’s body was extricated from Grapevine Camp the next day by National Park Service helicopter. Blair’s girlfriend flew out in the helicopter as well. At Phantom Ranch, three of the original sixteen decided to hike out, and three of the nine rafts were left at Phantom to be transported out of the canyon by NPS helicopter.

The group left Phantom Ranch and ran Horn Creek Rapid late in the day, where one of their boats flipped. A member of the crew, well-versed in swiftwater rescue, had the boat right-side up in the middle of the river in a matter of minutes and the group went on to camp. The next day the group assisted in righting a raft from another group below Crystal Rapid. The rest of their trip to the take out at Pearce Ferry was uneventful.

Preliminary reports from the Coconino County Medical Examiner reportedly state Blair’s cause of death was drowning. While Blair had mild age-appropriate cardiac disease and was a Type II diabetic, his heart showed no signs of acute infarction as would be seen in a heart attack, nor was his blood sugar level out of normal range.

The trip was not a party trip. Alcohol consumption was reported as slight, with no drinking during the day while on the water. The group scouted rapids, traveled close together, and participated in numerous safety briefings.

There are two take-home lessons here, at least.

The first is don’t jump into the Colorado River. Many accidents have occurred to river runners over the years doing just this.

The second is more challenging, to always check that you are wearing your lifejacket while on the water, including after you scout. River runners who raft long enough know that occasionally life jackets are forgotten, not fastened properly, or are simply too loose.

While no date has yet been set for a memorial service for Mr. Blair, the family requests that donations in lieu of flowers be sent to the Jimmy Dwayne Blair Idaho Rivers United fund at Our condolences to the Blair family and the members of this river trip. Their participation in getting this information out to river runners is greatly appreciated.


From: Jill Frye <>
Subject: our Grand Canyon trip from Hell!
Date: May 13, 2017 at 5:38:00 PM MDT

Fellow Boaters, Family, and Friends,
As some of you know, Ron & I went on our 10th private raft trip through the Grand Canyon/Colorado River from April 14 to May 4.  We had been anxiously anticipated this trip for 14 months, ever since Bobbi won the permit draw.  We actually were on the river for 21 day, but the original plans were for 23 1/2 days.  The group was ready to exit the river at Pierce Ferry (280 miles) after illness, injury, and even a death!  
This trip had 16 adventurers spread among 9 rafts: Bobbi, the permittee was a passenger in Jim Blair’s raft.  I was a passenger in Ron’s raft.  Dian was a passenger in Dave’s raft.  Maria (her first ever raft trip of any kind) was a passenger in Gary’s raft.  Adam was a passenger in Colby’s (Jim’s son) raft.  Glenn was a backup oarsman for George in George’s raft.  Janene & Larry shared rowing their raft.  Owen was by himself in his raft.  Andrea was by herself in her raft.  
From Day 1 through Day 8, nine of us had norovirus ( The virus is transmitted by fecally contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, and via aerosolization of vomited virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces).  For the first 24 hours, the inflicted person either has diarrhea, vomiting, or both!  The next 24 hours, the victim is very weak.  Ron got his on day 5.  I got mine on day 7-8.  It usually struck us in the night.  Mine arrived the day after my 65th birthday celebration!  Happy Birthday to Me!  We have no idea how we contracted this, but it’s obvious that we were passing it from person-to-person.  We bleached our tables, our hand washing water, our dish washing rinse water, and our toilets as part of our natural routine.
Day 5: We took a short hike up into Nautiloid Canyon, using a rope.  

On the way back to the rafts, 33-year old Colby decide to jump off of the 20’ cliff into the river with his life jacket on.  He couldn’t see how deep the river was.  Upon surfacing, he announced that he broke his foot, which was just flopped over.  I didn’t look at it because I had no interest in becoming sick.  George is an orthopedic surgeon, so he set it back into place.  The foot was broken where the long fibula in the lower leg joins the foot.  We got Colby flat onto a raft table, and rowed 6 miles in a strong wind to the nearest camp (Buck Farm) that might provide a place for a helicopter to land.  

One of the requirements is that we must carry 2 long panels of international orange cloth to place into a + so that aircraft can see that we need help.  We placed it on a wet, sand island (the water was rising) so the chopper could see that we were the group that needed help.  Dave & Gary both had those hand-held, satellite-communicators/locators that they beamed out requesting help from the park service.  Also, another private group came by & used their satellite phone to request help for us.  We told this group that we are still sick with norovirus, and they shouldn’t get too close.  Somehow in the raging wind, the chopper landed & took off with Colby right before dark.  Colby never did get the virus.

Larry & Gary ferry Colby over to the island for his evacuation to the South Rim.  From there, he was taken by ambulance to Flagstaff for surgery the next day.  Colby is now in good spirits, and a full recovery is expected.  The surgeon said that Colby is very lucky that George was there to set the foot, or else he could be looking at a long recovery.  Colby’s dad, Jim, was too sick from the virus to show much reaction to the situation. 
The next morning, Ron stripped down our raft to find where it was leaking.  A tiny wear spot was discovered on the top of the front tube, as well as an air valve needed tightened.

Day 10 (April 23): No one announced that they were sick today, so perhaps it has run its course through our group!  Apparently, either last night or this a.m., Jim tripped & hyper extended his knee.  About 1 month before our trip, Jim suffered a head injury in a jet boat.  It’s my understanding that yearly, he has to take a refresher course in the operation of a jet boat since he’s a fishing & rafting outfitter (The Last Resort).  Someone was operating the jet boat, & they were approaching a HUGE wave with a deep trough.  Instead of sitting down & bracing for impact, Jim stood up to look into the trough.  He hit his forehead onto the windshield!  This act provided him with an ambulance ride to the hospital where they glued the laceration together.  A week before the trip, Jim told me that he still didn’t feel right in the head..he was slower in his actions & thinking.  He wasn’t told that he had a concussion, but it sure sounded like it to me!

About 2 miles downriver from last night’s camp, we scouted the very long Hance Rapid, which is full of holes, huge waves, lots of boulders, pour overs, and one must row furiously to avoid all of this mayhem.  Since Ron has the most experience on this river, it has been our routine that he would run the rapids first, and Jim would run last as he made sure that every boat ahead of him made it through.  When a person goes on a scout, you either wear your life jacket in case you fall onto the rocks, or clip it onto your boat.  It is surmised that Jim forgot to put his life jacket on before he entered that rapid.  Later, as Bobbi looked at the photos that she took, Jim did NOT have his jacket on as they left to run Hance Rapid.  We think that Jim realized that he didn’t have his jacket on, let go of the oars to put it on, went over a pour-over rock, and got tossed into the river!  
When Bobbi looked back to see why Jim was in the wrong place, to her horror, she saw that Jim was in the river & without his life jacket.  Jim managed to get ahold of Owen’s raft’s perimeter rope, but had to let go because Owen’s raft was going to pin Jim against the cliff.  Owen bent his oarlock, and a chunk was taken out of the oar’s blade as he pried away from the cliff.  Owen couldn’t pull Jim into his raft because there was no jacket to pull on.  The way to pull someone into a raft is to grab the 2 shoulders of the life jacket, and fall backwards into the raft.  Jim is 6’4” and must have weighed about 250 pounds.  Next, Jim ended up near George’s raft, but George couldn’t get to him quickly enough as Jim floated by.  Meanwhile as this was happening, Dave had washed out of his raft by a wave.  He managed to climb back in, only to be washed out again!  We caught up to Dave in time to grab his raft, and herd him to shore.  We then realized that Jim was still in the river, and we could only see his helmet & a little of his face.  Next, he quickly flipped face-down!  Someone from shore (I think that it was Owen) jumped into the river & swam out to flip Jim face-up, and swam Jim back to our raft which was now pulling into shore.  Janene found Jim’s life jacket floating nearby their raft unclipped, which indicated that he had been trying to put it on.  Many people rotated doing CPR on Jim for over an hour.  Between Dr. George, nurse Dian, and wilderness first responder Andrea injecting epinephrin into him, Jim just would not revive!  An autopsy report should show either that he drowned or had a heart attack.  
While this CPR was ongoing, another group floated by that had a flipped raft that they were rescuing.  One raft of experts said that as a general rule, after 45 minutes of CPR, the person is considered gone.  They also called out on their satellite phone for us, as did Gary & Dave again with their hand-held devices.  The helicopter located us with our orange + again, and flew down river to a small sandy beach where they waited for us.  We strapped Jim to our table, and rowed down to the helicopter.  These were the same rescue personnel who had come to get Colby 5 days earlier.  They instructed us to float to Grapevine Camp where they could land the helicopter safely, and where we would spend the night.  Another team of investigators had to be flown in to take statements from all of us individually.  Jim was respectfully placed into a body bag, & he & Bobbi were flown out to Flagstaff the next morning. Jim has since been cremated. 
Day 11: Since Adam wasn’t really an oarsman but took over rowing Colby’s raft after Colby left, Adam didn’t feel confident or interested in rowing the rest of the river.  We still had at this point 190 miles to go, & the rapids just get harder.  Maria wanted OUT of there!  Andrea was very upset and wanted to leave as well.  We rowed the short distance to Phantom Ranch which is where the only ranger station is in the canyon.  Ranger Betsy knew to expect us.  There is a bulletin board on the trail to the ranger station.  A note on it read in essence: “If you are the group of 16 rafters where 9 of you have been sick with norovirus, please do NOT come up to Phantom Ranch!”  We ignored it because we had to talk with Ranger Betsy about evacuating the 3 rafts & their gear.  
We now had Colby’s raft without an oarsman.  Jim’s raft had no oarsman.  Andrea’s raft had no oarswoman.  By this time, our group was being referred by us as well as by the park service as, “The Trip From Hell.”  Also on this bulletin board was a poster of 2 lost hikers presumed drowned in Tapeats Creek.  The Merrill Shoe people lost a 55-year old grandmother & her 14-year old step-grandson as they locked arms & tried to cross the cold, raging creek!  After the trip, the ranger at the South Rim told us that the boy’s body was found 20 miles down the Colorado River from Tapeats Creek.  Grandmother was not found as of yet.  How sad for this family!  
  The park service flew these rafts & all of their gear to the South Rim,  drove our hikers & Bobbi to Flagstaff, flew Colby to the South Rim, & Jim’s body to Flagstaff all for FREE!  They offered us counseling the night that we gave them our statements.  The park service did a remarkable job, & their professionalism was superb!  Before the trip, Bobbi strongly urged us to all get rescue insurance for just this very reason, so we did.  Otherwise, the expense of it would fall on her head as trip leader!  
Day 11 continued:  Now, our trip consisted of 10 boaters, and 6 rafts.  It’s been windy with blowing sand.  The wind comes upriver about 2:00 each afternoon, making the rowing extremely hard.  Windy nights blow sand into our ears, sleeping bags, teeth, every crack that we have!  This wind has been going off and on for the entire trip.  Some days have been overcast & cold.  
After Phantom Ranch, we have to run Horn Rapid.  Glenn was rowing George down this rapid, and flipped!  

From this point onward, we actually have a wonderful trip even though it was windy a lot.

Even after taking out, our adventure was not done.  As we were leaving the take-out at Pierce Ferry on the gravel road, Owen got distracted by his buzzing passenger’s seat belt (the seat had a pile of crap on it that made the seat think that someone was in it), & drove over a 25’ embankment!  He wasn’t injured, nor was the truck & trailer. Using 2 tow straps, Jim’s Suburban, and manpower, the guys (Owen, Ron, Larry, & Glenn) spent 3 hours pulling up the truck and trailer individually from its landing spot.  Upon seeing the tracks, it’s amazing that it didn’t flip on the way down.

On the drive home, we spent the night in Cedar City with sister Sue’s son, Jeff Dietz, and his wife Christa.  
You may be thinking of this as a very sad tale by now.  Yes, it is.  But, I’d like to look at it from a different perspective. Jim was in what I call, “bonus years.”  He died in the most beautiful place on earth: the Grand Canyon, doing the sport that he dearly loved.  Jim’s children will never suffer the expense of paying for future nursing care in a rest home.  Jim will never develop alzheimer’s or dimentia.  Jim will never have prostate cancer, or any other cancer.  Jim was type  2 diabetic.  He will never lose a leg or his vision to this disease.  He had many wonderful adventures on this planet, and was not taken in his prime.  I will miss my friend, but am happy that he led an active, full life.  


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