PARK AIRLIFTS 17 PEOPLE OFF STUCK RAFT
By Brad Fuqua
Editor, Grand Canyon News
A 37-foot motorized raft, operated by Wilderness River Adventures, became pinned on a rock at Unkar Rapid September 11, 2003. Unkar Rapid is at river mile 72.5. "At approximately 2 p.m., the motorized raft experienced engine failure upon entering the rapid," incident commander K.J. Glover said in a report. "It traveled to the left side and got lodged on rocks towards the base of the rapid." For the next three hours, the boatman and crews from two other Wilderness River Adventures' boats attempted to free the raft. The NPS received a satellite call for assistance at 5 p.m., after the self-rescue attempts failed. But SAR [search and rescue] personnel had less than two hours of daylight left for the operation.
Two rangers were inserted onto the boat via short-haul, a technique of moving rescuers utilizing a 100-foot rope attached to the helicopter. Six passengers were evacuated before nightfall, but air operations had to be suspended at dusk due to safety protocols. "Rangers stayed on the boat with the remaining passengers throughout the night," Glover reported. "In the morning the passengers were short-hauled to safety." There were no reports of injuries. Some of the 17 were able to get onto other river trips and hike out from Phantom Ranch.
Following the helicopter operation, rescuers and boatmen remained on the raft to assist with efforts to free it from the rock. Attempts to free the boat Friday proved unsuccessful. However, the boat was moved with a "Z rig" from the initial point of entrapment to a location 10 feet downstream. The boat also rotated 180 degrees. On Saturday morning, park rangers returned to Unkar Rapid to assist with freeing the boat. The raft finally broke free utilizing engine power. The boat then continued down river without further incident. A photo of the stranded boat is at http://www.grandcanyontourguide.com/ click on "Grand Canyon Newspaper".