It began just like the hundreds of other trips Mountain Whitewater rafting guide Daniel Hartman-Strawn has taken down the Poudre River.
Then the tour turned into a rescue operation.
“We came across the corner on one of our normal rafting trips and we saw a gentleman and his kid on the left-hand bank waving their arms above their head,” Hartman-Strawn said. “The father was not wearing a helmet or a lifejacket. The child was only wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) like you see underneath a ferry seat. It’s not what you wear whitewater rafting.”
Hartman-Strawn used ropes and life vests to rescue the man and his son whose small inflatable raft had overturned in the Poudre River. A third man, 57-year-old David Smith, went missing and has not been seen since. Rescuers called off the search Sunday as they wait for water levels on the Poudre to recede.
9NEWS spoke with Hartman-Strawn about the rescue, as well as Brad and Lindsey Modesitt, the owners of Mountain Whitewater rafting, about tips for how to stay safe on the river.
(Editor's note: Responses have been edited for context and clarity.)
9NEWS: How did you notice the father and son were in need of help?
Hartman-Strawn: We came across the corner on one of our normal rafting trips and we saw a gentleman and his kid on the left-hand bank waving their arms above their head. At one point, the child fell about four feet off a ledge and was slow to get up so I grabbed my medical kit.
Were they wearing the proper gear to be rafting in the river with the water level running as high as it is?
The father was not wearing a helmet or a lifejacket. The child was only wearing a PFD like you see underneath a ferry seat. It’s not what you wear whitewater rafting. People are used to the water being a lot lower this time of year. This is the most snow we’ve seen in 25 or 30 years in terms of snowpack.
At what point did you find out a third person was missing from the group?
I asked them, was anyone else with you? That’s when they told me there was a third person in their group. Once it was clear there was a man in the river at high water without a PFD or a helmet, we were concerned.
What kind of safety precautions do you take on your trips with clients?
All the precautions that we take on a trip, they had taken none of them. We have multiple boats so we can help each other if anything goes wrong. We have ropes, whistles, wet-suits and everyone is wearing a life vest. Everyone also goes through a half-hour-long safety talk. It’s such a severe safety talk that on a regular basis, customers decide not to go on the trip.
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Is tubing on the Poudre river dangerous?
Brad Modesitt: The river can always be dangerous. It’s how you prepare and how you take care of yourself. It’s unfortunate that people can just jump on the river without any proper safety equipment and just injure themselves.
The man who was rescued was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. How can wearing the wrong clothes impact safety for someone who is tubing or rafting?
It’s a pretty serious river. We have all sorts of rafting equipment and safety equipment that we use and they were wearing blue jeans. It’s just like putting an anchor on your legs. It’s really hard to swim and it actually pulls you down. It’s pretty similar to going skydiving and not bringing your parachute with you and still calling it skydiving.
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