A Mean Season

   The vicinity of Hance Rapid has been particularly brutal to boaters in the last few months. In mid September, a Grand Canyon Expeditions dory flipped at the top right entry to Hance. Although all the swimmers washed through safely, the dory wrapped against a rock at the bottom on the right side and remained there overnight. A National Park Service helicopter was called in to help dislodge it.

   A few weeks later, as Lowell Lundeen was rowing a Tour West boat through Hance, he was caught in the bottom hole for the better part of a minute. As the boat was crashing violently about, Lowell was thrown out on the downstream side but his ankle caught in the oarlock. As he dangled there upside-down, the spare oar broke, impaling his leg. He later said, “I couldn’t imagine a more diabolical scenario.”

   Just downstream a few days later on October 15th, a private party at Zoroaster camp was violently awakened when a rock fall covered the camp with debris and hit nearly everyone. Four trip members sustained major injuries, including a crushed pelvis, crushed feet, fractured arm and a severely contused thigh. Luckily, several of the group were Emergency Medical Technicians. According to Patti Thompson, the Phantom Ranch Ranger on duty, they did an excellent job stabilizing the injured. A bad storm with snow on the rim and strong winds made helicopter evacuation impossible, so they had to be transported to Phantom Ranch by boat through the rapids and the rain. They remained at Phantom for 6 hours before they could be safely evacuated to the rim.

   Then, shortly after noon on November 16th, one of the boats from a private river trip flipped and wrapped on the rocks at the top right of Hance Rapid. Two people were swept downstream but swam to shore uninjured. A third, Emilio Solares of Nederland, Colorado, was last seen struggling beneath the capsized raft, apparently entangled.

   The weather was miserable, which made search and rescue operations difficult and hazardous. An NPS helicopter attempted to reach the area, but due to the approach of a winter storm was not able to land. Instead, Rangers Jim Traub and Bill Vandergraff hiked down from the rim, accompanied by 60 mph winds and 6 inches of snow. They arrived at Hance Rapid at 11:00 ., unable to do anything until morning.

   During the night the raft floated free, and early the following morning it was sighted passing under the bridge at Phantom Ranch. Solares was no longer with the raft. As weather permitted, the rangers initiated a downstream search by helicopter and by kayak, finding various pieces of equipment from the missing raft, including tarps, a cooler, a chair, and Solares’ life jacket. Other private trips on the water at the time collected gear and watched for signs of Solares. In addition, the Park enlisted river guides B.J. Boyle and Dugald Bremner to assist in the search by kayak. Winter storms continued to impede the search, and side stream run-off muddied the water. By the end of November, the NPS racked up nearly 700 man hours, including 185 hours of hazardous duty pay and 19 hours of helicopter time, to no avail; the search was called off. Not until early January was Solares’ body recovered, after it was spotted passing beneath the silver bridge at Phantom.

Jeri Ledbetter