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Rafter dies in Lochsa River whitewater

A crew of Spokane funseekers joins River Odysseys West rafting guides on the Lochsa River for premium whitewater. 
 (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
A crew of Spokane funseekers joins River Odysseys West rafting guides on the Lochsa River for premium whitewater. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

RIVER RUNNING -- A Wisconsin man drowned while rafting on the Lochsa River on Saturday, according to a report filed today by S-R reporter Alison Boggs.

This is the second rafting fatality in the region this spring, following the death of a Hauser, Idaho, man last week on the Owyhee River in Oregon.

In the Lochsa incident, Randy A. Eroen, 35, of Sun Prairie, Wis., drowned after his raft hit a rapid and all four occupants fell out. Two were able to get back in, a third made it to shore, but Eroen was swept down river, a news release from the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office said. The sheriff’s office received the call at 1:41 p.m.

Eroen was unable to reach the life rope thrown to him by two kayakers accompanying the group, the release said. The kayakers went after Eroen, pulled him from the river and started CPR. They were joined by the rest of the rafting party, who continued CPR until medical assistance arrived.

For experienced rafters, the river is big with spring runoff but not what they would consider "huge." 

Read on for the rest of Boggs' story:

"The water is high, it’s dangerous,” said Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings. “People know, but they just don’t believe. It happens every year.”

The earlier incident, however, is not attributable to high water, said Undersheriff Brian Wolfe of Malheur County, Oregon.

On May 23, Robert Desmarais, 65, of Hauser, died on the Owyhee River in Oregon while on a guided trip with ROW Adventures of Coeur d’Alene.

Desmarais was in an inflatable kayak with another person when the vessel flipped in a rapid called Upset, Wolfe said. The water level was between 4,000 and 5,000 cubic feet per second, which Wolfe said is not considered a high water level.

Both passengers were wearing life jackets, but Desmarais was trapped underwater in a river hydraulic for 15 minutes, Wolfe said. When he surfaced, the group immediately retrieved him and began CPR but couldn’t revive him, Wolfe said.

“They acted quickly, they got on a satellite phone, called for help,” Wolfe said. “Usually on a river when we lose somebody, it’s because of not having a floatation device on.”

In this case, however, Wolfe said, “We didn’t see where anybody was really at fault. They were outfitted with a good outfitter. Sad as it is, it’s just one of those things that happen.”

This is the first time a passenger has died in ROW’s 32-year history, said Brad Moss, a company spokesman.

Wolfe said Malheur County has a rafting fatality “probably every other year.”

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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