The jet boats, owned and operated by Canyonlands by Night in Moab, were not damaged and the stranded boat was finally retrieved on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 11, said Canyonlands by Night owner Preston Paxman.
Initial reports indicated that as many as 17 people were injured, but that figure included two of the company’s uninjured river guides and family members who accompanied their injured companions to Moab Regional Hospital, Paxman said. Thirty people were passengers on the boat, most of them Europeans who were in Moab for a vacation trip, Paxman said. The 38-foot boat has a maximum capacity of 40 passengers, officials said.
The accident marked the first in Canyonlands by Night’s 49-year history, and company officials are reviewing the incident and protocol to “ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Paxman said.
“Your heart goes out to the people who were injured,” Paxman said. “You never want this to happen to anyone... You just don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Low water levels have made the river “tricky” to maneuver this season, Grand County Sheriff Steve White said Tuesday.
“There’s a really tricky set of [sand]bars there by Gold Bar and Moab Salt [the Intrepid Potash salt mine],” White said. “I guess it’s really difficult out there right now.”
The accident occurred at about 7:55 p.m. about a half-mile upriver from the Gold Bar Recreation Area, Paxman said. The boat was returning to dock after completing a sunset tour, according to a news release from Canyonlands by Night.
“The [jet boat was] coming back upstream and the driver slowed down to let a group that was floating down the river go past,” White said. “When he throttled back up, he made it over one sandbar but hit the next one.”
The injuries occurred when the jet boat driver backed the boat away from the sandbar, said Grand County Sheriff’s Det. Kim Neal.
“Some passengers stood up and were milling around. When the driver backed the boat off the sandbar some of those standing fell and some were hurt,” Neal said.
Most of the injuries involved minor scrapes and bruises, but one passenger’s leg was fractured, Neal said.
A jet boat sent to help evacuate passengers also struck a sandbar, traveled 30 feet inland and was grounded. No one was injured in that incident.
Grand County Search and Rescue workers and sheriff’s deputies ferried two county emergency medical workers to the jet boat to provide medical treatment. The boat then motored on to Gold Bar, where the passengers disembarked. Injured passengers were transported to Moab Regional Hospital for treatment and the remaining passengers were taken by company bus back to the Canyonlands by Night facility, Paxman said.
The rescue operation lasted about two hours, White said.