A woman was rescued by her tour group after falling into fast-moving rapids while whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River in Colorado over Memorial Day weekend.
The spring runoff from the historically bountiful snow pack has revived drought-parched rivers in the West, fueling raging rapids and providing water levels not seen in years. However, the rising water levels have also created dangerous situations for rafters such as those that unfolded Saturday.
The woman had been on a rafting excursion with Performance Tours, in the Sunshine Falls area of the Royal George Canyon, when she fell in, according to FOX31 Denver KDVR.
Video of the dramatic moment, filmed from the GoPro of fellow whitewater rafter Chris Dean, showed the raft slamming into the drop of the rapid, followed by a scream as the raft buckled. The camera didn’t catch her fall as the woman had been behind him on the boat, but it did capture the waters quickly sweeping her away.
“The water levels in the Arkansas River are really high this time of the year due to all the snow melting,” Chris Dean told Storyful. “As soon as we went over the falls, we hit [the river] hard and the lady behind me fell into the water and was then going down the river in front of us.”
The group quickly paddled after her as she fought the rushing water, and it was Dean who finally pulled her back on board. He added that the tour guide had talked them through how to respond if someone fell into the water before the excursion, so they all knew how to react.
The high water levels and raging rapids that the group experienced come as historic levels of snow pack — replenished by a series of powerful storms that had slammed the West over the winter — melt with the arrival of spring.
Rivers fed by snow melt, once facing dwindling water levels due to drought, are getting a second wind. However, that has also created potentially dangerous whitewater rafting conditions as excursion companies report high volumes of water not seen in years.
In California, the American River –a popular whitewater rafting scene in the state that runs from the Sierra Nevada to the Sacramento River– was already seeing more than three times the volume of water rushing per second compared to previous years, Jessica Wallstrom of OARS, one of the rafting companies that offer trips on the river, told The Associated Press.
Whitewater rafting rookie Jason Schwartz, who had braved the rapids on the South Fork American River, told AccuWeather National Reporter Jillian Angeline that his guide had warned that if water levels reached a certain threshold, they would be unable to go on the excursion. While more water has been welcomed, it’s also presented more difficult conditions for people new to the sport and potentially dangerous situations.
Companies like Northwest Rafting Co. and Mackay Wilderness River Trips are waiting for water levels to drop in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho before starting their excursions, the respective owners told Angeline.
“High water is potentially dangerous,” Northwest Rafting Co. owner Zach Collier said. “And low water, we’re just scraping down, hitting rocks.”
Mackay Wilderness River Trips originally had a June 3 launch day, but that was postponed due to water levels.
“Water was going to be too high for us to run one of these commercial trips,” said owner Brent Estep. “Now, the private boaters [are] going out there, and they love this because they’re skilled [and] they have the equipment. They’re chomping at the bit.”
The same snow melt has flooded over 100,000 acres of farmland in the Tulare Lake Basin and has prompted some of California’s reservoirs to schedule releases to make room for more runoff.
Produced in association with AccuWeather
Edited by Alberto Arellano and Joseph Hammond