Rangers Rescue Three Boaters from Snake River

August 12, 2009
Grand Teton National Park rangers rescued three boaters from the Snake River on Tuesday afternoon, August 11, after they flipped their canoe and fell into the river. Will Shafer, age 23, of Ogden, Utah and two of his relatives, a 16-year-old young man and a 5-year-old boy, were canoeing on the river just one mile downstream of the historic Bar BC Ranch when the accident occurred. Only the 5-year-old boy was wearing a life jacket at the time of the incident; Shafer and his other relative were not wearing their life preservers and lost them to the river’s current when the canoe capsized.

After his canoe upset in the river, Shafer was able to hold onto the vessel as it continued to float downstream. He was diverted into a debris-choked side channel where the canoe became pinned against a logjam. This channel lies river left of the main current and is not navigable. The teenager and young boy were swept downstream until, with some difficulty, they were eventually able to grab hold of an exposed tree root and pull themselves out of the river and onto the bank. The two parties lost sight of one another and were unsure about each other’s welfare for several minutes.

A river guide with Triangle X Ranch came upon the stranded canoeists and called the Teton Interagency Dispatch Center at 3:10 p.m. to report the situation. The river guide then proceeded to help the three boaters until a park ranger could arrive by raft to rescue them from their separate locations along the riverbank. The ranger then floated all three canoeists to the Moose Landing where other family members were waiting; the rescued party reached the boat landing at 3:35 p.m.

Rangers give credit to the Triangle X Ranch river guide for his invaluable assistance in this rescue operation, and for his help in directing rescue personnel to the exact location of the stranded boaters. Commercial river guides are often the first responders to river accidents because they consistently float the Snake River; their initial response can be a critical part of a successful river rescue, as was the case in this particular incident.

Rangers remind boaters that life preservers can save lives, and it’s prudent to wear a life jacket whenever floating the Snake River because of its swift current and cold water temperature. According to park regulations, children under 13 years of age are required to be wearing a life jacket whenever a vessel is in motion, and any boat operating on park waters is required to have life jackets for each person on board.

Rangers were unable to dislodge and recover the rental canoe. Additional attempts will be made once the seasonal river flow recedes.