Search and rescue crew

A search and rescue crew puts in at Hecla Junction Wednesday after reports that a commercial rafting customer had gone into the river at Big Drop Rapid and had not been recovered. The 11-year-old Golden boy had also lost his personal flotation device, and crews responded to search with boats, all-terrain vehicles, a helicopter and on foot.

Search and rescue crews recovered the body of the missing 11-year-old boy Friday from the Arkansas River in Browns Canyon.

Drake Durkee, from Golden, was thrown from his raft at Big Drop Rapid Wednesday during a commercial rafting trip. His body was found just downstream of the site where he went into the water.

Search and rescue crews scoured Browns Canyon and downstream as far as the Big Bend river access for 2 days after Durkee’s disappearance.

Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze confirmed that the boy’s personal flotation device came off sometime after he was thrown from the boat. It was found downstream of Big Drop.

Rescue crews worked Friday back to areas where they considered there was a higher likelihood of finding the boy’s body.

Search and rescue crews had a diving team on hand Friday, but they didn’t use the team because the water was too high and murky, said Spezze. Responders used underwater cameras and then probing poles when they found what they thought was a body underwater.

They were first able to dislodge a helmet, which matched the missing boy’s, and eventually the body.

Spezze said he could not say for sure how the body had stayed in one place rather than float downstream – there are several things in the river that a body can get hung up on. It was likely foot entrapment, which search and rescue workers had suspected early in their response.

It is standard for rafting guides to warn customers of the dangers of standing up in the river. The river floor is covered with spots where a person’s foot can get stuck. And the danger lies in the force of the water pushing the person underwater with a foot firmly stuck in place.

The Arkansas River Basin still has tremendous snowpack, the sheriff added. Recently, the water has been rising by hundreds of cubic feet per second each day, and the snowpack isn’t dwindling. Spezze guessed the river could still be 3 weeks from its high-water peak.

He advised boaters to use extreme caution, especially private boaters. Be prepared, be in shape, he said.

For the most part, the rafting companies do a good job of keeping their customers safe, but the river is a high-risk environment, Spezze said.

Durkee’s death was the first rafting fatality of the 2015 whitewater season in Chaffee County.

The sheriff said an investigation into the incident is ongoing, as the sheriff’s office must look into the rafting company’s conduct to make sure it took all the proper precautions.

Agencies assisting in the search include the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, Chaffee County Emergency Medical Services, Chaffee County Search and Rescue North and South, Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado, Flight for Life, Colorado Parks and Wildlife – Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado Springs Fire Department and the Bureau of Land Management.

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