River guides and a kayaker tried several times to save a Texas woman who drowned in Ten Mile Rapid on the upper Animas River on June 26, according to a San Juan County Sheriff's Office report.
Laurie Clemmons, 35, of Mont Belvieu, Texas, died after she and the other passengers in a raft entered the rapid backward and fell into the water. The report, obtained Monday by The Durango Herald, details the ensuing attempt at rescuing the passengers but also explains that the guides seemed to follow protocol for such an incident.
"I wasn't there and I haven't read the report, but from how it was explained to me, there's nothing out of the ordinary," said Casey Lynch, owner of Mountain Waters Rafting, based in Durango.
Lynch also is spokesman for Dana Kopf, owner of 4 Corners Whitewater of Durango, the company hired by the Clemmons party.
On Monday, Kopf - who helped pull Clemmons from the water - declined to discuss the incident. He issued a news release and expressed sympathy for Clemmons' family and friends.
According to the report, Clemmons was one of four passengers in a raft guided by Candace Brendler of 4 Corners Whitewater. Clemmons fell out of the raft in Ten Mile Rapid about 1:20 p.m. The report said river guides pulled her from the water downstream of the rapid and performed CPR for 45 minutes under the direction of an emergency-room doctor who was on the trip.
Ten Mile Rapid is rated a Class V rapid, on a scale of I-VI. A Class VI rapid is considered to be virtually unnavigable.
An autopsy conducted by the La Plata County coroner's office June 29 listed the cause of death as drowning with head trauma. The report said Clemmons was wearing a helmet and personal flotation device.
The day before, Clemmons successfully passed the raft company's required test on the lower Animas to make sure participants could swim defensively and aggressively and were able to grab an emergency throw rope.
Ten Mile Rapid is a treacherous three-quarters of a mile in a narrow canyon. Impelled by heavy, intermittent rain, the Animas was flowing at about 1,530 cubic feet per second the day of the incident, as measured at the gauge below Silverton. It was a "high" flow for the upper Animas, Lynch said.
Lynch said weather on the days before the trip made the conditions on the upper section of the river somewhat riskier.
"There was a lot of heavy rain above Silverton that surged down the river and made it a high-flow trip," Lynch said.
According to the report, Brendler's raft entered the rapid backward. It was turned sideways when it hit a rough area. Laurie Clemmons, her husband, Michael, and passenger Jeremy Feinberg fell out. During maneuvering, Brendler's left oar broke. The three passengers were swept downstream. Michael Clemmons and Feinberg were pulled from the water. But Laurie Clemmons was unable to hold on to the rear of a kayak of a safety kayaker.
The report said once Kopf - who was on a raft downstream from Brendler - noticed Brendler's passengers were in the water, he intercepted Laurie Clemmons and grabbed her life vest, but was unable to pull her into his raft. Kopf and the safety kayaker finally pulled Laurie Clemmons from the water and took her to the bank about a mile downstream, where they began performing CPR. Dr. Jonathan Rudoit of Farmington, a member of the rafting party, took over doing CPR. Laurie Clemmons died shortly after.
"The upper Animas is the upper echelon of running a river," Lynch said Monday. "You can do your best, but it's risky. I wasn't there, but everything I have heard, I believe (the company and guides) acted properly."