A 37 foot long motorized tour boat traversing the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park and operated by river concessionaire Canyoneers ran aground in the Crystal Rapid Rock Garden yesterday afternoon. The Crystal Rapid Rock Garden is at river mile 99, approximately eleven miles downstream of Phantom Ranch. A National Park Service representative noted the boat was carrying 13 passengers and two crew members when the accident occurred. The crew members called for help to Grand Canyon National Park approximately 5:20 in the afternoon.
A rescue operation was launched, but the passengers and crew spent the night on the craft in the rapid, as darkness prevented attempts to get the stranded river runners to shore.
Early this morning, the National Park Service flew an 18 foot motorized rescue boat to the scene and used it to remove the passengers from the motorboat. This was the first time the NPS had used this rescue craft to remove stranded passengers. The rescue craft is deflated and bundled in a helicopter sling load, ready for rapid dispatch at times of need.
According to NPS personnel, this craft is being tried for just this situation, eliminating the need to extract people off of stranded boats with the use of a helicopter, a rescue technique known as a short haul. This rescue technique of being lifted off a stranded boat by an overhead helicopter is one of the most dangerous rescue techniques conducted in the park, and often disturbs passengers so much they request to be removed from the river trip.
As the park's regular helicopter was undergoing maintenance, a helicopter with a smaller payload capacity was used to transport personnel and equipment from the South Rim to Crystal Rapid. Three flights were used to bring in personnel, and three flights were used to bring in equipment.
Once the passengers were removed from the Canyoneers boat with the rescue boat, the rescuers were able to set a fixed line to shore. Using a five to one pulley system, the NPS rescue team hauled the motorboat off the rocks.
In the event that the rescue might have been prolonged, Grand Canyon National Park staff began notifying river runners at Lee's Ferry and Phantom Ranch about the navigational hazard. River runners who approached Crystal Rapid during the rescue were contacted by park staff and only allowed to proceed to run the rapid as rescue operations allowed.
No injuries were reported to passengers, crew, or NPS personnel, and the commercial group continued its trip this afternoon. No passengers asked to leave the Canyoneers river trip, and Park staff were pleased at how smoothly the rescue was conducted.
Flows from Glen Canyon Dam are between 11,000 and 17,000 cubic feet per second. During 2000 to 2004, the NPS conducted 4 short-haul operations for motorized tour boats stranded in the Colorado River's rapids, once at Unkar Rapid, once at Horn Creek Rapid, and twice at Crystal Rapid.