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Colorado man dies on private rafting trip down Grand Canyon
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Colorado man dies on private rafting trip down Grand Canyon

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Muddy Colorado River

A look at Lipan Point of a red Colorado River flowing through Hance Rapid in Grand Canyon National Park.

One person died on a private rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, officials with the national park announced Tuesday.

James Crocker, 59, of Lakewood, Colorado, died Monday after he fell out of a boat as his group was running Hance Rapid at about river mile 77. The incident occurred on the sixth day of the voyage after the trip launched from Lees Ferry in several non-motorized boats on June 9.

Although the incident is still under investigation, national park spokesperson Joelle Baird said they believe the boat Crocker was riding entered a large hole near the top of the Hance Rapid, and that although the boat did not flip, Crocker ended up in the water.

Baird said the hole the boat entered is significant and one that can be dangerous if not navigated well.

“It's a very prominent whitewater feature, and there's usually pretty big consequences for boats or kayaks that enter this hole,” Baird said.

Crocker was wearing a life jacket at the time, Baird said. Members of the group pulled him out of the water, noted he was unresponsive and began CPR.

The park was notified of the incident at approximately 10 a.m. Monday when someone on the trip activated a personal locator beacon and the Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center then received a report that CPR was in progress.

Park rangers were flown into the location with the park helicopter, and all resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.

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Crocker and one other member of the trip were then flown by helicopter out of the canyon, Baird said. Crocker was transported to the Coconino County Medical Examiner’s office.

Hance Rapid is known as one of the larger, and potentially more deadly, rapids on the upper half of the river. It is one that Baird said even seasoned river runners often scout before each run in order to get a look at the rapid and plan their approach before entering. It is not known whether the group scouted the rapid.

"The hydraulics of the river are pretty incredible for that rapid and yesterday, the river is a little lower than normal. It's running about 8,000 cubic feet per second,” Baird said. “[The hole] is definitely one of the biggest features in that rapid as well as just a lot of rocks too, especially on river right.”

It is not known how many other people were on the trip, but besides Crocker and the other member who was flown out, Baird said the trip will continue on its proposed itinerary down the river. There were no other injuries.

The incident comes after another death on the river that occurred on a commercial trip in April. In that case, a large motor-propelled raft flipped in the Kwagunt Rapid, leading to the death of a 60-year-old woman and injuries for two other passengers.

The Grand Canyon National Park still has not released the identity of the woman who died in that incident.

Permits for private trips down the Colorado are highly sought after and difficult to get. The park utilizes a lottery each year to award permits and it can often take several years of trying before a permit is received.

Commercial trips also take passengers down the river through primarily the summer months.

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Updated for correction at 2:49 p.m. on June 17. 

Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at askabelund@azdailysun.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund. 

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