November 13, 2007

Cangrejal river rafting accident

Cangrejal river rafting, La Ceiba, HondurasCangrejal river rafting
Photo and complete article:
La Prensa, Honduras

In a tragic accident on Sunday afternoon, a 52-year-old North American tourist drowned while river rafting on the Rio Cangrejal with a tour company. The man's name was Eric Simons and the newspaper reported that he was from Colorado, Illinois, but that has since been corrected by reader to be Boulder, Colorado.

I imagine that the river is high and rough since we have had a lot of rain lately. I've read that the rapids range from level I to level IV, depending upon the location in the river and the time of year. Also, from reading lots of travelogues, I know that rough and wild is exactly the type of river rafting trip that many people are looking for.

Yesterday's noon news reported that he fell out of the raft and that the guide tried to rescue him but the man panicked and almost drowned the guide as well. His body was recovered some two kilometers down the river.

There are two reasons that I bring up this accident:

News of any tourists accidents is always bad news for tourism. People will remember this one man who drowned long after they have forgotten the tens (or hundreds?) of thousands of people who had a wonderful experience on the Rio Cangrejal. Police authorities "launched a call to tour operators to avoid more human loss in the rainy season," whatever that means.

Based on the names reported, I believe that this was the very same guide that I used in my long ago river rafting trip and the owner of the tour company, who also joined our rafting group, was on the trip as well. They have been operating for many years in La Ceiba.

If you have been reading this blogicito for very long, then you know that if I thought (in my not so humble opinion) that the guides took unreasonable risks or that if the equipment was substandard or that proper precautions were not taken, I would tell you.

My opinion is actually quite the opposite. Although I'm a good swimmer, not being a particularly brave or adventuresome person (except with words), I didn't even plan to go down the river. I paid my fee for the trip but I was going to follow along with the driver and take photos, which I was perfectly happy and content to do. The guides begged and encouraged me to take the raft instead because they wanted me to have fun. I finally relented.

I don't remember all the details, but we were required to wear a helmet and life vest, and we spent the first 15-30 minutes learning safety measures, including what to do if we fell out of the raft or if it overturned. It wasn't just talking; we had to practice floating feet first down the river. The guides spoke excellent English and there were no communication problems.

During one part of the trip, we stopped and climbed up a mountain through the jungle to swim in a secluded pool formed from the rocks. It wasn't easy climbing (for me) and at one point, I slipped and scraped my leg. It was no big deal − more injury to my pride than anything − but the guides insisted upon stopping, pulling out their first aid kit and doctoring up my shin. After that, one of the guides stayed close, grabbing my arm whenever my feet slipped on the muddy earth.

I felt perfectly secure with the guides. I never doubted my safety with them. I thought they were extremely well trained and knowledgeable. I believe that they gear their trips based on the experience and wishes of the customer.

Cultural differences

The other reason I brought this up was to talk about cultural differences. During the news report, in an interview with the forensic doctor, he stated the man's age three times and twice went into a long discussion of how this was a sport for young people 20-22-25 years old, not for old people. My mouth fell open listening to this.

I was shocked to hear the doctor proclaim that a 52-year-old shouldn't be river rafting and I imagine that those of you who run a marathon at 60 years old or are in your 50's and 60's and are in better shape than many others who are in their 20's are amazed to hear that, too.

I didn't know Eric Simons and have no information about his physical condition or what kind of rafting trip he asked for. It was a tragic accident, but I think it was just that, an accident, and that only the forces of the river are to blame, not the tour operators or guides or Mr. Simons himself.

My condolences go to Eric Simons' family.

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