August 14, 1997 in Nation/World

Hikers Feared Dead After Canyon Flood Wall Of Water Washes Away 11 Tourists

Louis Sahagun Los Angeles Times
 
Tags:Death

Rescue teams on foot and in boats Wednesday searched for the bodies of 10 hikers caught in a flash flood that sent an 11-foot-high wall of water roaring down a deep and narrow sandstone canyon near Lake Powell in northern Arizona.

The body of an unidentified woman was discovered shortly after the flood swept through the fabled 6-mile-long Antelope Canyon Tuesday afternoon. Only one person, a guide from Los Angeles for a company called TrekAmerica, was found alive.

Authorities have given up hope of finding any more survivors in the muddy pools of water that remained in the canyon. Among those caught in the flood were seven French nationals, one British national, one Swedish national and three U.S. residents, including the guide who survived.

A team of rescuers found the survivor, Francisco Quintana, 28, staggering blindly along a muddy ledge in the canyon about an hour after the flood.

“What he’s asking now is this: Why am I alive and the others dead?” said Coconino County Sheriff David Ramos.

On Wednesday, Quintana told authorities that he had been invited down into the canyon by two members of his tour group about 4 p.m. Other members wanted him to photograph them in the narrows of its normally dry gravel bed.

“As they were making their way out, he heard a loud roar and he knew exactly what it was,” Ramos said. “They were within 100 feet of getting out when water started rising rapidly. Quintana, who is built like a linebacker, tried to wedge his companions between some rocks higher up the canyon wall.

“Then he saw two other guys float past,” he said. “After that, Quintana and his two companions held on for as long as they could. Eventually, they all let go and broke away.”

About a quarter-mile down the canyon, Quintana grabbed hold of some branches and pulled himself out of the water.

Local authorities on Wednesday contacted the consulate offices of the nations of the missing.

“We’ve searched the length of the canyon on foot and by boat where it dumps out at Lake Powell,” said Coconino County Sheriff’s Lt. Ron Anderson. “We also had people rappelling down its walls to search the muddy sand and potholes in the canyon, which is about 2 feet wide and 80 feet deep in some places.”

Thursday, the search was expected to focus on a pile of rocks, brush, wood and mud - 75 feet wide and 200 yards long - near the shore of Lake Powell.

Authorities said it was not raining in that immediate area when the wall of water crashed through the canyon.

“Tragically, there was a sizable thunderstorm 15 miles southeast of here,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Sam Whitted. “And there were about 12 people in the canyon.”

Map of area

MEMO: Changed from the Idaho edition.

Changed from the Idaho edition.

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