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They Went Onto The River And
It Was Supposed To Be Fun
And then they died

April 20, 2018

Members of Snohomish County Fire District 7 water rescue team training this week by the Lewis Street boat launch in Monroe. LARGER IMAGES BELOW

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Larger images of above, members of Snohomish County Fire District 7 water rescue team training this week by the Lewis Street boat launch in Monroe. Photos: Fire District 7.

Deadly hazard that awaits rafters and inner tubers. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Chronicle news & opinion
By Rex D. Cain

(MONROE, WA.) – This is right around the time of the year, every year, that we start writing them.The stories of the dead. The dead in the water.

Mostly the very young who went into the water and never came out breathing another breath.

So by all means, do consider this one of the best life-saving tips you’ll ever be handed for free. Reading this short survival piece, “getting it” and heeding the advice therein can easily keep you among the living. And isn’t that really where you want to be?

Mom, dad. Be sure and MAKE your teenage kids read this thing. Force feed it to them. Please. You do not want to be picking out caskets and planning a funeral this month or next or come June.

We were reminded to jot these life-saving notes down for you (and by the way, you’re welcome) by two things.

One, we received an email recently from a fine, hail hearty young fellow in another state who said he was coming here to lovely Washington - where all the women are strong and pump iron and all the men are movie star pretty - to do some white water rafting guide work.

That jogged our minds to one particular death last year.

And then the photos you see at upper right, posted online Thursday by Snohomish County Fire District 7 (which covers central and east Snohomish County). They put the photos up with these two paragraphs:

“We know that it has been raining non stop lately but our water rescue team has been very busy training and preparing for when the weather does start warming up. The team has been on the Skykomish River by the Lewis Street boat launch training this week.

This is not a good time of year to be on the river, it is cold, moving fast, and water levels are higher. Always remember if you do plan to be on the water, everyone should be wearing a properly fitted life jacket.

That brought back the memory of yet another death in these parts last year – that one as well, in water on a river.

The Death Zone

So here’s the thing. We are entering into right now what you could call “the death zone” on Washington state rivers. Meaning this time of the year around late April, into May and June where we get a few sunny, warm days and people – particularly the young, say teens into their 20’s and 30’s – somehow get the idea it’s the middle of summer and that all that raging river water, pumped high and fast with snow melt, is a balmy 70 degrees.

They grab a few six packs, maybe a bit of weed and a cheap inflatable raft they got on discount at a local sporting goods store and head out onto a bad-ass, dangerous as hell river like the Skykomish, wearing cut offs, a T-shirt and without one personal flotation device (life vest) among them thinking they’re immortal and the day is just gonna be fits and giggles all around.

And then a short time later, somebody goes into the river and dies. Just like that. Sometimes they are wearing life vests and have all the right gear and they still die.

One of the first of the dead we wrote about last year was on May 26. The story started off this way:

“The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office is investigating a rafting accident over the weekend that claimed the life of a Seattle man.

The accident happened Sunday about 3:45 pm near the infamous stretch of the Skykomish river called Boulder Drop, a particularly dangerous stretch of water for both rafters and kayakers.

The 35-year old Seattle man was with a group rafting the river with a commercial rafting company when he somehow ended up in the frigid river in distress….the man reportedly was wearing all the appropriate safety gear.”

On June 10, 2017 the Chronicle ran this story:

“It was just a few weeks ago that King County officials put out a pubic warning to folks reminding them of the dangers of water recreation this time of year, in light of warmer temperatures and more people heading out to have fun on the water.

The word at that time was that rivers in the area are, "inherently dangerous and with winter’s heavy mountain snowpack much of the Cascade Range is beginning to melt."

And that means for rivers in King County and elsewhere, expect cold, fast and dangerous water flows throughout the summer.

Shortly after that warning came this news headline: "Woman nearly drowns at Flaming Geyser State Park while inner tubing on river."

That woman, who was out tubing the river with friends ended up in critical condition at Harborview Hospital after she fell off the inner tube while floating down the Green River and was swept down river by fast moving, very cold water. The kind of cold water that makes your limbs refuse to obey commands from your brain after a very short period of time immersed in it.”

On July 8 we wrote this:

“Over the weekend searchers recovered the body of a recent high school graduate from the frigid water of Alder Lake, a 7-mile long reservoir on the Nisqually River in Eatonville… Rashawn Hale-Moody, 18 , of Tacoma had been been trying to cross the lake by holding onto a log with friends when he slipped under the water and did not resurface, according to the Pierce County Sheriff's Office. The boy, who had just graduated from Gates High School in the Franklin-Pierce school district was not wearing a life vest when the accident happened.”

And so it went, and so it goes almost every year like that. The dead in the water in the death zone.

And herein lies the problem in The Death Zone: it is so deceptive this time of year, what with the sun and a bit of warmth and clear blue skies on a few days that people are lulled into a sense of safety that is not really there on those frigid-water rivers and lakes. What appears safe and benign is a deadly illusion.

Those rivers are deadly cold and running high and very fast this time of year. But the danger is masked by the outward appearance of things: warm days, blue skies, sun. How could all that possibly be dangerous? Well, it damn sure is and that is a fact. Lot of people died over the years to prove that’s a fact.

The killers lurking underneath the water

There are other hazards as well besides frigid, fast moving high water.

As we wrote back in June of 2017: “Such as coming around a river bend and not seeing until too late that huge tree that has fallen clear across the river bank-to-bank (photo, upper right) and is just waiting for a fun-loving inner tuber to hit it in fast moving water so it can drag the hapless tuber under water, possibly snagging both human and tube on underwater branches and debris and then quickly and without mercy claiming the life of the human. It happens -- to saints and sinners alike. Dr. Death is an equal opportunity killer.”

So there you go. That’s the warning. It’s as good as we’ve got. And it probably won’t get this good ever again.



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