Emery County officials rescue scouts, troop leaders sinking in homemade canoes

Emery County Sheriff's officials assisted scout troops after a canoe trip went wrong on Tuesday, July 10, 2019. Photo: Emery County Sheriff's Office

EMERY COUNTY, Utah, July 10, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Emery County Sheriff officials came to the rescue of two Cedar City scout groups Tuesday when the boaters’ homemade canoes began to sink into the Green River.

“Sgt. Mitch Vetere received a call from a relative stating that a distraught young man had shown up at a farm needing assistance,” a statement from the Sheriff’s office says.

“Sgt. Vetere responded to the farm and spoke with the young man, who stated that his canoe had sunk and floated down the river. He said there were over 20 scouts and leaders in his group, most of them in homemade canoes.”

Vetere hooked onto an ECSO boat, staged in Green River, and headed to the Green River State Park boat ramp with the young man, the statement says.

“When they got to the ramp, one of the scout leaders was there. The leader had sunk his canoe after travelling only a couple hundred yards, but was able to self-rescue and make his way back to the boat ramp.

“A gentleman that lives down river then pulled up with three more scouts and a leader who had aborted their trip after too many canoe problems.”

Vetere, Deputy Jeff Newland and Deputy Dylan Keele launched a rescue boat, and headed down river in an attempt to locate the other scouts and leaders. Two scout leaders accompanied them, the statement says.

“The ECSO boat crew located one scout clinging to a tree about one mile downstream. They were able to coax him to let go and float to the boat using his life jacket.”

Sheriff’s officials took their boat further downstream, and located the rest of the scouts and leaders.

“ECSO was able to offload the remaining canoes which were bogged down with gear, and stayed in the area until all made it safely to the shore at Crystal Geyser where they could be picked up by vehicle.”

The scout groups had planned to canoe 67 miles, from Green River State Park to Mineral Bottoms, over the next few days. Instead, the homemade boats that went furthest made it about four miles downriver.

“Sgt. Vetere, who has spent a lot of time on the river over the years, stated that homemade canoes of this type have no business being on the river, especially with the river currently running at 13,000 cfs (cubic feet per second),” the statement said.

“He stated that current river conditions are even a little high for commercial canoes with experienced canoers. These canoes were made with PVC pipe and wrapped with a plastic tarp material.”

Sheriff Greg Funk urged canoers to do their research and know their limitations.

“We have had numerous river rescues over the years, on the Green, the San Rafael, and the Muddy,” Funk said in a prepared statement.

“It is fortunate that the canoe problems happened early in this trip where there is access to the river from the banks, rather than farther downstream with sheer canyon walls. The Green River is wide, the water is cold, and hypothermia can set in in a matter of minutes.

“Another plus is that ECSO rescue boats had recently been serviced after sitting through the winter, and were used in a 2-day river rescue exercise just last month.”

The rescue took three hours, and all canoers were accounted for, the statement said, adding, “Good ending to what could have easily been a terrible tragedy.”

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