Last night was a pretty rough night, we pulled the body of an 8 year old boy out of the American Fork River here in Utah. He was the fourth kid to die in the local rivers in the last week.
When the Utah County Sheriff got the call about him falling in, I happened to be very close to the canyon just finishing up a picnic with my family. I immediately headed towards the canyon and was almost there when we (Utah County Search and Rescue) were paged. I was the third person on scene and was working with the Lone Peak Fire Department and several other local police and fire departments. We set up right across from Timp Cave and started watching the river for a body. Over the next hour, well over 100 members of the SAR Team and local PD/FD arrived and spread out over about 10 miles working our way up and down the river. He was finally found after I had been there almost 2 hours.
Jayson was pinned in what is called a strainer. Several logs were across the river and there was a lot of debris under the logs. Swift moving water applies an enormous amount of force – it took several minutes and several men to work his body off of the strainer and out of the river. My assignment was about 30 feet downstream as safety – half a dozen team members and I were positioned such that if one of our people working with Jayson’s body fell in the river we would be able to pull them out. Once his body was freed from the river he was carefully passed amongst about 20 people to the shore and placed onto a stokes (stretcher). Once everyone was clear of the river, the safety team moved to the stokes and he was carried to an ambulance.
I am attempting to convey a lot of imagery here, details you probably don’t always hear. I’m doing that for a reason. I DO NOT want to pull your kid out of the river – or YOU! Four families in the last week have for some reason thought it would be ok to have their kids near the river – and they were WRONG.
In this case, and the details are not entirely clear, the mother either fell in with Jayson or jumped in after him. She was fortunately pulled back out by two bystanders who risked their lives to grab her. She was unconscious, hypothermic and immediately transported to the hospital. She was extremely lucky that they were able to get her out of the water, as the ones who pulled her out were extremely lucky that they did not become victims themselves.
Those of us who live and play here know that you can often ford the Provo and American Fork river without too much danger. Such is NOT the case right now and will not be for the next month and a half at least. The rivers are extremely high and extremely fast – which equals EXTREMELY DEADLY. With the current conditions of the water right now, if an adult went in I would say they have about a 90% chance of dying. That goes for the Search and Rescue Team as well – our training, gear and preparation allows us to lower those odds as well as working as a team and controlling situations – but it’s still a huge risk.
If you’re taking your children in the mountains – which I highly recommend you do – just be cautious, aware and alert. Do NOT let your children near the river! The banks are water logged and getting hammered by water much higher than they’re used to. Collapse of the bank into the river is a huge potential problem. Just because you’re standing on dry ground at the edge of the river does not mean you are safe, that bank could collapse from your added weight with no warning.
Tell the story I just shared with your kids if you’re going to be in an area where the rivers are running. Let them know that other kids like them are dying from falling in. Show them a line 20 ft away from the bank and forbid them not to cross it. Keep your eye on them – getting distracted for 30 seconds could easily mean you look back and your kid is gone – and 30 feet down the river – and they’re not coming back alive.
Whatever you do, don’t think “that won’t happen to me”. There is nothing special to the river about you or your kids – it will devour you violently if you end up in it. My kids have a lot of experience with the local rivers and I won’t let them anywhere near it.
Please, heed the warnings of the media, the authorities, of me – Do Not Let Your Kids Near the River for the next month. There are plenty of places to play and have fun in the mountains without risking the river. Pulling kids out sucks, I really don’t want to pull yours.