Two Colorado River rafters died last week, following unrelated accidents at Funnel Falls in Westwater Canyon, about 54 miles upstream from Moab.
Adam Ericksen, 27, of Bountiful, and Charles McLynch, 50, of Bay Shore, New York, were traveling in two separate rafts at about 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 4.
Ericksen was on a privately operated raft with three other people, while McLynch was one of six people who were thrown from a raft operated by Sheri Griffith Expeditions of Moab.
Other people at the scene brought both men to shore, but efforts to revive them were not successful, according to a Grand County Sheriff’s Office press release. At least two other people sustained minor injuries during the accidents, but they declined to be treated when Classic Air Medical crews arrived at the scene, Grand County Sheriff’s Lt. Kim Neal said.
Both men’s bodies were transported downriver by raft to the Cisco boat ramp; from there, they were taken to the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner in Salt Lake City.
Neal said that both men were wearing life jackets. Alcohol was not a factor in either accident, and there were no signs that either man sustained head trauma, Neal said.
Sheri Griffith Expeditions owner Jose Tejada said that he and his employees send their condolences to the men’s families.
“Nobody participates in a scenario such as this and comes out unaffected,” he said. “It’s tragic for all involved.”
Tejada said that the private raft’s occupants ran down the river at about the same time as the commercial raft, but neither vessel was close to each other.
“One did not affect the other,” he said. “They were separate accidents. They were so far apart that they were handled separately.”
Tejada said that many facts about the accidents have not been determined, pending the autopsy results from the state medical examiner’s office.
However, he said that the response to both accidents was handled properly, and he praised Classic Air Medical crews for their flawless performance.
“Classic was top of the line,” he said.
Ericksen’s family described him as a true adventurer who loved to travel and spend time outdoors.
According to a statement from his family, he was traveling on the Westwater trip with friends. He was carrying an engagement ring with him, and he planned to formally propose to his longtime girlfriend.
Ericksen was a senior at the University of Utah’s School of Business who was just one semester away from graduating. Before he transferred to the U of U, he was named Entrepreneur of the Year at Salt Lake Community College.
His family said that he had an outstanding resume of life experiences. As a creative person, they said, he was a musician at heart. He played bass and guitar in different bands, and he was in the process of recording new music.
McLynch was the president and owner of a home renovation business on New York’s Long Island.
According to his LinkedIn profile, he took pride in the fact that customers chose his business for their projects. McLynch said he was committed to offering them a better experience with construction.
The 17-mile-long Westwater Canyon is the first stretch of whitewater along the Utah section of the Colorado River, with 11 named rapids, including Class IV sections.
The river typically peaks at about 20,000 cubic feet per second by late May or early June, although flows near the Utah-Colorado state line had already surpassed 21,000 cubic feet per second on June 4, according to provisional data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Canyon Voyages Adventure Company owner Don Oblak said that although there will always be some inherent risks associated with outdoor adventure activities, river rafting is very safe.
“This is an extraordinarily rare occurrence,” he said. “I cannot remember an event like this.”
Water is peaking now for the season, and is at close to normal levels for peak runoff season, which is mid-May to mid-June, he said.
According to Oblak, the Class IV rapids of Funnel Falls have strong hydraulics where the water is pinched and compressed over large rocks.
“There is also a strong lateral (sideways) wave that is involved at certain water levels,” he said.
His company is still running that section of river in oar boats only, he said, using its most experienced guides.
Oblak said that his employees’ hearts go out to the families of the victims, and to their friends at Sheri Griffith Expeditions.
Victims were traveling in separate rafts when they hit rapids