Grand County Emergency Medical Services personnel and other first responders came to the rescue of 28 people following a boat crash near the Colorado River Portal on Friday, Sept. 8. No life-threatening injuries were reported. The faces of two people in this photo have been blacked out to protect their identities. [Photo courtesy of Grand County Emergency Medical Services]

Allen and Karen Konen are slightly bruised and sore, but more than anything else, the California couple are thankful.

The Konens were among more than two dozen passengers who were injured when the sightseeing boat they were traveling in crashed into the riverbank near the Colorado River Portal on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 8.

Like most of the other passengers, they left the scene with relatively minor injuries and didn’t require much in the way of medical treatment.

Even so, they are grateful to the many first responders who came so quickly to their rescue, from Grand County Emergency Medical Services and Grand County Search and Rescue crews, to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Moab City Police Department and Moab Valley Fire Department. Their thanks extend to the employees at Moab Regional Hospital who examined Karen Konen as a precaution, after she began to experience chest pain following the crash.

“They were the nicest people, the kindest people, the most caring people,” Allen Konen said. “They all did a great job.”

Twenty-eight passengers and one operator were on board the Canyonlands by Night and Day boat when it experienced a mechanical failure, causing it to crash into the rocks along the riverbank just below Kane Creek Boulevard. A Utah State Parks boating inspector determined that the boat’s starboard jet steering mechanism failed while it was traveling at an estimated speed of about 25 miles per hour, according to Grand County Sheriff’s Lt. Kim Neal.

Neal said that passengers’ injuries ranged between mild and serious, although none of them were life-threatening.

One older woman reportedly sustained a broken collarbone, while others had bloody noses and cuts on their faces. Allen Konen walked away with injuries to his leg and his side, while his wife has what he called “some pretty good bruises.”

“I don’t think that anybody got away without bumps and bruises,” he said.

Grand County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) crews first responded to the incident just before 6 p.m. that afternoon. Once they had arrived at the scene and further assessed the situation, EMS crews called for additional ambulances.

Altogether, EMS evaluated 26 patients – nine of whom were transported to the hospital for further treatment. Because most of the patients who were treated at the hospital were over the age of 60, there were concerns about broken bones, so the hospital called in additional radiology technicians.

Moab Regional Hospital subsequently treated 17 people, according to MRH CEO Jen Sadoff, and EMS reported that one patient was later transferred via ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Neal gave credit to the many different entities who responded to the incident.

“Everybody helped out,” he said. “It was a pretty well-coordinated rescue.”

Sadoff, meanwhile, said the first responders worked collaboratively to ensure that everyone who was on the boat received care – and received that care quickly.

Many other hospital employees, including four physicians, also came in to help provide coverage – even after they’d already worked long shifts, or taken the day off.

One of them – Dr. Steven Rouzer – was up in the mountains at the time of the accident, while Dr. Kim Brandau was a two-hour car drive away. According to Sadoff, Brandau turned her car around as soon as she found out about the accident and rushed back to the hospital.

“I am always just amazed at our staff and their willingness to come in when situations like this happen,” Sadoff said.

“I knew that we were not going to make that turn”

The Konens were traveling in the front of the boat with two of Allen Konen’s in-laws. About 10 minutes into the ride, the boat had just gotten up to speed and was somewhere around the Colorado River’s confluence with Mill Creek when something went awry.

Konen has previously been on boat rides along Oregon’s Rogue River, so he said he understands how boats operate. As the Canyonlands by Night boat began to make a right-hand turn, he said, he had the sense that something was wrong.

“We got to that certain point, and I knew that we were not going to make that turn, and that we were going to hit those rocks,” he said.

The following sequence of events happened so fast, he said, that passengers had little time to react.

“I believe the boat operator said, ‘Hold on,’” he said.

Since they were at the very front of the boat, the Konens braced themselves as well as they could, but they got banged up as the craft bounced up onto the rocks. Upon impact, Konen said, the front rows of seats that were bolted to the boat tore loose.

Moab Regional Hospital staffers subsequently performed an X-ray and MRI on Karen Konen, and she was released from the facility that same evening.

Needless to say, the Konens took the next day off and laid low. Yet by Sunday, Sept. 10, they were up and about, venturing off to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park before continuing on this week to Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.

Canyonlands by Night group sales specialist Rachel Paxman said she cannot comment on the accident because an insurance company’s investigation of the incident is ongoing.

Konen said he has no ill will toward the boat’s operator, and said he thinks it’s a mistake to second-guess that person’s actions in the moments leading up to the crash.

“If he threw it in reverse, it would have nose-dived the boat,” he said. “I think that would have been a lot worse than what happened.”

Passengers praise first responders for quick actions