Water accidents claim two lives near Gunnison last Friday

Not out of the woods with river danger

by Mark Reaman

Two women died in separate water-related incidents near Gunnison on Friday, June 21. One died after falling off a paddle board in the Gunnison River and the other died in a kayak accident on Blue Mesa Reservoir.

County sheriff John Gallowich said that while it appears the water is receding in the local rivers, the weather forecast calls for warm temperatures throughout the county in the coming weeks and that could bring the water back up. That would then result in continued hazardous conditions on the local rivers. He said all river closures that have been imposed by his office this summer remain in effect and even the open sections of rivers present danger so users should remain aware.

As for last week’s fatalities, both women were visitors to the area. Thirty-one-year-old Sarah Schultz of Tulsa, Oklahoma was paddle boarding with a group when she fell off the board and was swept down river. She then got caught up in a tree in the river.

According to Gallowich, the group had put-in at McCabe’s Lane west of Gunnison. He said because the incident was still under investigation he couldn’t say if Schultz was with a commercial group. In a press release issued over the weekend, the sheriff’s office stated, “At approximately 11:15 a.m. a call was received requesting Swift Water Rescue to rescue a person that was attempting to paddle board down the Gunnison River.

“The paddle boarder was reported to have entered the Gunnison River near County Road 32, also known as McCabe’s Lane. Shortly after entering the river the 31-year-old female lost control of her board and later got hung up on a tree that was in the water.

“Gunnison Deputy Sheriffs along with personnel from the Swift Water Rescue team, Gunnison Fire and EMS quickly responded to the incident location and recovered the victim,” the statement continued. The victim was then taken to Gunnison Valley Hospital and later flown to Grand Junction. The Sheriff’s Office was later advised that the victim did not survive.

Later that same afternoon, a man reported that his wife had not shown up at a planned meeting place on Friday afternoon. Gallowich said the couple had started off the morning kayaking together and then separated with the plan to meet later in the day. When the woman did not show up, the husband called authorities.

After a search of the area, 65-year-old Petra Lachance of Penrose, Colorado was discovered by the Lake City Bridge near Colorado 149 and Colorado State Highway 50.

According to a statement from the Curecanti National Recreation Area, “National Park Service rangers located a victim of an apparent kayaking accident [on Friday, June 21]. The occupant of the kayak was removed from the water and CPR was performed, but was unsuccessful. The 65-year-old female kayaker had apparently been kayaking on the east end of Blue Mesa Reservoir earlier in the morning and failed to return to her campsite. She was then reported missing. This incident also continues to be under investigation.”

Again, Gallowich emphasized that the unusual spring runoff is making most sections of the local rivers dangerous, so caution should be used by people wanting to access the water for at least the next several weeks. Several river closures remain in effect.

Curecanti public information officer Sandra Snell-Dobert reminded everyone, “All river users should exercise extreme caution, watch for debris in the water and be prepared for other high-water related changes in the river. Reservoir users are reminded to be prepared for cold water and high winds.”

Be careful, everyone.

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