Man drowns in Colorado River

Photo by Dean Humphrey—A rescue boat fights the strong current near an island in the Colorado River where a drowning accident occurred.

Search and rescue crews worked Tuesday night to recover the body of a man believed to have drowned while rafting a stretch of the Colorado River near Orchard Mesa.

As of 9 p.m., members of the Mesa County Sheriff Department’s Search and Rescue team were still on boats trying to reach and remove the body, which was found around 6:45 p.m. snared in a tree jutting out along the south bank of the river, roughly a half-mile west of the Orchard Mesa pedestrian bridge.

The man’s identity wasn’t released, although the Sheriff’s Department said he was in his 20s.

Initial police-radio reports from the scene said a raft had become stuck on a tree, and a man was in the water. The man couldn’t swim, according to the early reports.

The call went out around 5:45 p.m.

Lisa Nelson, of Grand Junction, said she was walking her dog on Watson Island when she heard a man yelling for help from the area of the river.

Nelson said she approached the river and saw rescuers assembled on the other side, but she couldn’t see anybody in distress in the water.

She said a man who was already ashore ran up yelling for help and said, “My son’s in the water.”

Nelson said she wasn’t sure if the cries for help were from someone in trouble in the river, or simply echoes from the father’s cries. Nelson kept vigil a half-hour after the incident, waiting for news either way.

“I won’t sleep tonight if I don’t know,” she said.

On the other side of the river, Chris Brubaker said he and a friend were working in the driveway at 1164 Olson Ave., on Orchard Mesa, when he said a man in his 20s, wet and out of breath, ran up and asked him to call 911.

“He said, ‘I just lost my buddy in the river,’ ” Brubaker said.

The man explained their raft “got snagged on something,” he said.

Nelson said the man’s father told her the victim had been wearing a red life jacket. The Sheriff’s Department in a news release did not confirm the information, adding the life-jacket question would be among several sorted out in an investigation.

Unrelated to the body recovery, the Grand Junction Fire Department was called to handle a separate rescue call involving two women floating the river who had become stranded on the south side, close to where the body was found.

Tuesday’s rescue turned recovery was the second river-incident response for law enforcement in as many days at the same stretch of the Colorado River.

The Sheriff’s Department last Thursday warned of high waters and urged river users to be prepared and sober following seven rescue calls near the 29 Road bridge since July 1.


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