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Scout groups rescued after homemade canoes fall apart on Green River

Photo: Emery County Sheriff's Office Facebook page

GREEN RIVER, Utah — Emery County sheriff’s deputies rescued two scout groups from Cedar City whose homemade canoes fell apart on the Green River.

A relative of Emery County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mitch Vetere called him to report a distraught young scout showed up at a farm to seek help for the ill-fated outing. 

The scout told Vetere he became separated from his group of 20+ scouts and their leaders after his canoe sank and he floated down the river.

Homemade canoes and high water don’t mix

When Vetere and the scout arrived at Green River State Park, they found one of the scout leaders whose canoe sunk after traveling only a couple of hundred yards.

The sheriff’s department says someone else living downriver then shortly arrived with three more scouts and a leader who got out of the river after experiencing “too many canoe problems.”

“At that time, Sgt. Mitch Vetere, Deputy Jeff Newland and Deputy Dylan Keele launched a rescue boat and headed downriver in an attempt to locate the other scouts and leaders,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “The ECSO boat crew located one scout clinging to a tree about one mile downstream. They were able to coax him to let go and float to the boat using his life jacket.”

Deputies found the rest of the scouts and leaders further downriver and stayed in the area until everyone made it out safely at Crystal Geyser.

The sheriff’s office says the scouts planned to take a multi-day trip from Green River State Park to Mineral Bottoms, a distance of 67 river miles, but only traveled about four miles before getting bogged down as their canoes started to fall apart.

Sgt. Vetere, whom the sheriff’s office says has spent a lot of time on the river, says these homemade canoes, made from PVC and plastic tarps, do not belong on the river, especially when it is running as high as it is now. He stated that current river conditions are difficult even for commercial canoes with experienced canoers.

River safety

Sheriff Greg Funk says it’s fortunate no one was seriously injured or killed.

“We have had numerous river rescues over the years,” he said on Facebook.  “It is fortunate that the canoe problems happened early in this trip where there is access to the river from the banks, rather than farther downstream with sheer canyon walls. The Green River is wide, the water is cold, and hypothermia can set in in a matter of minutes.”

Many rivers and other streams are running higher and faster later than they normally would because of the wet winter and spring in Utah this year. The US Forest Service says summer snowmelt can often produce swift currents capable of sweeping people away with little warning.

The National Safety Council says if you get caught in a current, it’s best to go with it and float rather than try to fight it, or else try to swim parallel to the shore or bank. According to the NSC, drowning remains the number two preventable cause of death for children up to age 15.