Debris makes Colorado a treacherous river to float

Shifts in the Colorado River are believed to be responsible for a growing collection of debris where Tuesday’s fatal rafting accident happened, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said a debris field close to the south bank of the river, approximately 200 yards west of the Orchard Mesa pedestrian bridge, was observed up close for the first time by Sheriff’s Department staff during Tuesday’s body-recovery operation.

Although the Mesa County Coroner’s Office had yet to release the identity of the suspected drowning victim, 22-year-old Alex French was mourned by family on Wednesday.

The section of the river at issue has a small island, which channels the river on two sides. For now, rafters should opt for calmer waters on the north channel, the Sheriff’s Department said.

The south channel currently is muddled with debris from the cliff above the south banks, including trees and shrubs, which affects the river current and rapids and is snagging boats. The river-debris muck is the likely result of recent erosion to the south bank, authorities said.

“The sheriff is working to analyze and mitigate this serious problem as future rescues are anticipated,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

Kevin French, father of Alex French, said a tree he estimated to be jutting 60 feet into the river caused Tuesday’s accident. That tree was not there when the family rafted the same section on Saturday, he said.


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