Search ends for rafter who fell into Colorado River below Kremmling
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado
The search for the Denver-area rafter who has been missing since Saturday after he fell into the Colorado River below Kremmling has been suspended.
“We just don’t have enough manpower,” Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson said Tuesday afternoon.
An intensive search Saturday afternoon and evening and all day Sunday and Monday for Eric M. Kophs, 42, of Aurora, turned up no trace of the missing fisherman. The victim is an administrator for the Cherry Creek School District.
Johnson said more than 20 searchers floated the river seven times and walked the bank five times on Sunday. Although Monday’s effort was scaled back, he said searchers floated the river and walked the banks again multiple times.
Greg Foley of Grand County Search and Rescue said nearly 30 searchers and four dogs scoured the river and river banks Saturday . Other reports indicate personnel from Summit County were involved as well.
Johnson said for most of the day Sunday someone was stationed at the Pumphouse launch site above Radium to ask rafters putting in to be on the lookout for the missing man. He said as many as 150 rafts had floated that stretch of river by Monday evening since the incident on Saturday – none of them reported seeing any sign of Kophs.
“You think about the number of eyes that have groped on that river … That kind of gives you that feeling that, OK, we’re looking for something that’s probably under the water that you can’t see,” Johnson said.
The incident was reported just before 1 p.m. on Saturday, he said.
The sheriff said the incident occurred at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday when Kophs apparently fell from the raft while going through Needle’s Eye rapid. The rapid is rated Class 3 on a scale of 1 to 5, with Class 1 being flat water and Class 5 being expert-only and requiring constant intense effort to safely navigate.
Johnson said Kophs was at the oars of the boat and his fishing partner was in the front while they seemed to safely negotiate the rapid. Moments later, he said the partner suspected something was wrong because of the course they were taking and looked back to discover Kophs was no longer on the raft.
“How and why he fell out of the boat is a mystery,” Johnson said Sunday night.
He said the friend then scrambled to the oars to control the raft. By the time he had done so, Johnson said the friend looked up and saw Kophs about 100 yards downriver in a sitting position, feet facing downstream, paddling with his hands.
Then the man – who was wearing chest waders but not a life jacket – disappeared around a bend in the river. His friend never saw him again, the sheriff said.
He said the men, who were on the river primarily to fish, had rafted that part of the Colorado “several times” and were experienced and well equipped.
A sign at the launch site says rafters are required by law to wear life jackets at all times on the river.
Johnson said the river is running high but not extremely so, and that the rock usually protruding from the rapids was under water at the time of the accident. The rafters did not go over the rock, he said.
According to U.S. Geological Survey data, the river below Kremmling was flowing at about 4,100 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Saturday, its highest flow of the year so far. The average flow there for this time of year, based on 46 years of recordings, is 2,070 cfs, according to the USGS. The maximum flow recorded in the past 46 years was 7,230 cfs in 1997.
Johnson said the water is “high enough to cause a little issue” for searchers, particularly when they were trying to use probes to find a potentially submerged body.
Although the official search has been suspended, Johnson said the Bureau of Land Management is planning to add extra floats to its normal weekend schedule in an attempt to find Kophs. He was also confident the missing rafter will eventually be located.
“Given the use on that river, there’s a high likelihood that if he gets back on the surface, somebody is going find him.”
– Drew can be reached at (970) 887-3334 ext. 19610 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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