Colorado Parks and Wildlife is investigating the death Friday of a 41-year-old man who reportedly entered the Arkansas River in an innertube near the Buena Vista whitewater park and a short time later was reported to be in obvious distress on the river.
Witnesses said the victim in the innertube was struggling to make it to the shore near Buena Vista South Main recreation area on the river. The victim was witnessed going through hydraulics in the river and appeared to be struggling.
The call for help came at 2:40 p.m., prompting immediate response from CPW’s Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area rangers along with the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office and Chaffee County Emergency Medical Services.
Witnesses said the victim struggled until becoming unresponsive and floating downstream.
A commercial rafting company based in Johnson Village, downstream from the incident, was notified. The staff quickly attached a rope to a company employee who entered the river when the victim was spotted approaching them. The staffer grabbed the victim and was pulled to safety by a shore-based rescuer.
“The Emergency Medical Services staff immediately began CPR on the victim, but resuscitation efforts were not successful,” said Tom Waters, AHRA park manager. “The victim was pronounced at the scene by emergency personnel.”
Waters said his staff and the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office were investigating the death.
“We extend our sympathies to the family and friends of the victim,” Waters said, noting the victim was wearing a properly sized and fitted personal flotation device as well as a full wetsuit.
He noted this tragedy illustrates the importance of being prepared for entering challenging whitewater conditions at the peak of spring run-off from snowmelt. And he urged the public to check conditions by calling the AHRA before entering the river or to use a commercial rafting company.
The body was turned over to the Chaffee County Coroner for an official determination of the cause of death and notification of relatives. Any further information about the victim will be released by the coroner.
This death is the 11th confirmed water-related death in Colorado in 2023. There is one additional presumed water-related death and one more unconfirmed death.