By Chris Hendrickson, special to the Monitor
Snohomish County Sheriff’s Officers, Snohomish County Fire District 5 and other Sky Valley emergency management officials were together debriefing the mass casualty incident drill that took place in Sultan on Tuesday, April 9, when pagers began to go off in unison.
Two rafts had capsized on the Skykomish River at an area called Boulder Drop, east of Gold Bar, dumping ten people into the river. The 911 call came in around 1 p.m., just on the heels of the mass casualty exercise. “The sheriff told us that when the call came in, they were debriefing,” said Index resident Sean Horst, an adventure professional who was in one of the overturned rafts. “The room lit up, with everyone’s beepers going off in surround sound.”
Fortunately, no one was hurt and all were accounted for. The rafters were able to get to the shore safely, without the need for rescue or medical attention. All were outfitted with the appropriate safety gear, including life jackets and helmets.
“The recreational rafters, who all declined aid, were all properly equipped and trained,” stated Shari Ireton, Director of Communications at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, in a press release.
Early reports of missing rafters were, happily, just rumors.
“Nobody was ever missing,” stated Horst. “Once you have something like this happen, that’s your first priority. Making sure you’ve got everybody.”
The ten rafters had planned the boating day a week previously. It was a celebratory excursion for the Steven’s Pass workers; the pass had just closed for the season and they planned the trip for the day after the company party. Seven of the ten rafters had been professional river guides previously and all were experienced at outdoor adventures. Currently, nine are professional ski patrollers, and one a lift operator at the pass.
They closely monitored the levels of the river, knowing it was high, at 20,000 cubic feet per second, the weekend of April 6 and 7. Levels that high are far too significant for even professionals to consider taking a run down the river.
But by Tuesday, the river was at 7,000 cubic feet per second, a challenging level at which Boulder Drop becomes Class V, and while heart-pounding, a manageable and favorable level for professional river rafters.
Horst and his friends are no strangers to the whims of the Skykomish River.
“If you haven’t flipped, you’re going to one day, and you know that you have to be prepared to swim. That’s the deal,” said Horst.
“All of us were humbled by the swim we took,” Horst commented. The important thing for recreational rafters is to know what you’re getting into, he said, and to never underestimate the power of the river.
The 911 call brought the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, Fire District 5, the Index Fire Chief, Search and Rescue, and helicopter rescue units. Horst and his friends were grateful to all the rescue agencies who arrived at the scene, and also to the person who made the distress call, saying he knew that they simply wanted to help. It’s human nature to want to come to the aid of others when they are in trouble, he said.
“It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have,” stated Horst.
The group was able to continue their trip down the river to the take-out point, which is located at Big Eddy State Park.
“In the rafting industry, most of the best stories come from those who flip or go for that crazy swim,” said Horst. “I feel that life is an adventure and you’ve really got to just live it.”