Rafter missing; search scaled back
Seven hours spent Tuesday on the Colorado River in what participants were calling a recovery operation turned up no sign of a man who was swept away Monday by fast-moving, frigid waters.
Three boats, with four people each from Mesa County Search and Rescue, spent most of Tuesday running the river from its confluence with the Gunnison and going as far west as 20 Road, searching snags, tide pools and shorelines, Sheriff’s Lt. Phil Stratton said. The recovery was expected to be scaled back to one boat starting today, Stratton said.
“We’ve checked a huge chunk of river already,” he said, noting assistance in their efforts from a St. Mary’s CareFlight helicopter.
“We’ll be back here every day at least for the next two weeks with at least one boat,” he said.
Searchers found a backpack believed to have been worn by the missing man, containing food and other assorted items.
The missing man, 23-year-old Ctormy Taylor of Grand Junction, was floating with his fiancee, and another woman, when the single-chamber raft all three were on became snared on an abutment below the Fifth Street bridge.
The call came in around 5 p.m.
The two women briefly went under water, came up and managed to reach an island near the confluence with the Gunnison, Stratton said.
“They never saw him again,” he said.
None of the three rafters were wearing life jackets, he said. They were believed to have launched in Clifton and originally had at least two single-chamber rafts before one of them popped, forcing them to crowd onto one raft.
As of midday Tuesday, the Colorado River was moving at a clip of 17,000 cubic-feet per second as measured at the Utah line and was a bone-chilling 55 degrees.
“That was snow yesterday,” Stratton said. “When our guys were pulling the boats out of the water last night, their legs were going numb in just a few minutes.”
Search efforts were suspended at dark Monday and started up Tuesday morning. The effort involved many of the same rescuers who responded to Sunday’s landslide on Grand Mesa.
Taylor’s mother and stepfather were among several family members and friends waiting for news that never came Tuesday at the Blue Heron boat launch.
“(Taylor) was planning on leaving to go to Montana for work and this was a tradition,” Stratton said. “He wanted to run it one last time.”