Three boys attempted to float through the Pueblo Whitewater Park on an air mattress. The mattress flipped immediately and the swift current swept them through the course. Two boys were rescued by kayakers surfing near the bottom of the course. 14 year-old Andrew McDaniel helped his younger brother grab hold of a kayak, but Andrew was unable save himself and drowned.
None of the boys were wearing PFDs and the matress was stamped "do not use in water". The new course had opened just a few months prior and was flowing at 1600cfs, a medium level. The city had placed numerous warning signs requiring the wear of PFD's. The boys had actually trespassed on posted railroad land to gain access. The local paddling club and fire department are working with the city's Parks and Recreations Department to improve water safety awareness for kids.
Urban whitewater facilities are a great recreational resource. The Pueblo WW Park is part of a $9.3 million Legacy Project that will revitalize 8 river-miles from the Pueblo Dam through historic downtown Pueblo. The WW park turned a dangerous low head dam into a half-mile whitewater park with 8 drops. While one year-round drowning machine has been dealt with, water safety awareness is still an important topic that should be an annual focus for city Parks and Recreation Departments, Fire Departments, and yes paddlers using whitewater parks.
American Whitewater has always promoted education not regulation. This is yet another example of kids ignoring warnings (signs, labels) and even trespassing to have fun on the water. Regulation would not have saved this boy, but safety awareness through multiple sources might have. Paddlers can make a difference by taking a proactive part in promoting water safety awareness.
What can paddlers do:
1. Start a dialogue and engage kids and adults about water safety in a positive way. Yelling and scolding doesn't work.
2. Explain the need for PFD's and the danger of hydraulics.
3. Advice tubers to wear a helmet in addition to a PFD.
4. Keep any eye out for kids near the shore, especially when flows are above normal.
5. Volunteer through paddling clubs, park & recreation department, or the fire deparment to speak about water safety.