River tragedies

A tragedy played out on the scanner in the newspaper office last Thursday morning.
A woman was in the river.
A rafting incident.
In what we can only imagine started out as a fun family vacation experience, a mother, father and their three children were enjoying a rafting adventure just east of Pagosa Springs when a wave knocked all but one family member into the ice-cold swift-flowing water at the confluence of the east and west forks of the San Juan River.
Three family members were quickly rescued. The mother was not.
That’s when a family adventure quickly turned into a swiftwater rescue.
It wasn’t long before we heard that a resident located about 3 miles downstream had spotted the woman on a small island in the area of San Juan River Village and called 9-1-1.
The rafting guides reached her first and began administering CPR.
Back in our office, we listened intently as skilled dispatchers relayed calls and routed first responders quickly to the scene where the rafting guides ferried her across the river and live-saving measures continued. She was then transported to Pagosa Springs Medical Center into the hands of another medical team.
We waited for what felt like forever. We couldn’t imagine what her family was going through.
After some time had passed, we began our job of contacting officials for a report to inform the public of the situation. All the while, we were hoping for a better outcome than what we would come to realize later that afternoon.
In spite of the heroic efforts of the guides and first responders, she had tragically passed away.
Our hearts went out to her family — to her children and her husband who had been with her on that fateful rafting adventure.
Tears flowed in our newspaper office.
Coroner Brandon Bishop made his way to the mortuary, and later, he returned our call as we prepared an update for the newspaper’s website. Of utmost importance to Bishop was her family and giving them the time they needed to grieve and notify their loved ones.
The San Juan River has been running high for weeks now. Rafters have taken precautions on every level. The day of the accident, the river was flowing at less than half the rate it was what seemed like just the week before.
There are inherent risks involved in rafting. Life jackets, wet suits, helmets and safety briefings are standard for rafting companies; yet, no matter what your level of skill or conditions of the water, accidents have always and will always happen.
For years, those accidents seemed to only happen on rivers like the Arkansas and the Poudre, not here at home in Pagosa Country.
Life will forever be changed for those involved in Thursday’s incident on the San Juan River just east of Pagosa Springs.
In a separate river incident, after 10 days of searching for a Colorado Springs woman who fell into the Rio Grande River on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass on June 15, the body of Roberta Sophia Rodriguez was recovered from the river on Tuesday morning. Mineral County Search and Rescue, Archuleta County Emergency Management and the Rio Grande Forest Service assisted in the recovery effort.
Our deepest sympathy goes out to the grieving families and friends of Amy Kirsch, from Evansville, Ind., and Roberta Sophia Rodriguez, from Colorado Springs. Our community mourns with you and for you.
Our condolences also go out to the raft guides, first responders, law enforcement, dispatchers, medical staff and others involved in these tragedies.

Terri Lynn Oldham House

This story was posted on June 27, 2019.