Send us a suggestion!

Antelope Canyon flash flood, 5 years later

Discussion in 'Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group' started by mike_dallin, Sep 4, 2002.

  1. mike_dallin

    mike_dallin Guest

    An interesting news story about the 5th anniversary of the Antelope Canyon flash flood that killed 11 people. newsid=5132855&title=Remembering%20the% 20flood&BRD=1196&PAG=461&CATNAME=Top%20Stories&CATEGORYID=410

    Remembering the flood Aug 22 2002 12:00AM By Seth Muller Lake Powell Chronicle

    Following surgery for his hand, 22-year-old Anders Wassenius lived with a titanium pin in his thumb.

    Crew members working to recover his body thought they could find his before the others using a metal detector, knowing that pin would set it off.

    But, five years later, Wassenius's body remains one of the two unfound after the Aug. 12, 1997 flash flood in lower Antelope Canyon, which drowned 11 visitors and became what most residents consider the worst event in the area's history.

    Five years to the day, Coconino County Deputy Lt. Ron Anderson, who coordinated the recovery efforts, paid a visit to the tourist attraction, located a few miles east of Page.

    There, tour operators Ken and Emily Young greeted him with smiles and handshakes.

    Anderson's work on the Antelope flood — from 1997 to the present — has brought him close to the family that runs the concession.

    "That guy there is the real hero," Anderson said, pointing to Ken.

    He tells of how Ken Young ran down below the location of the slot and helped pull Francisco "Poncho" Quintana, now 33, of Los Angeles, from the waters.

    Stripped bare of his clothes by the screaming speed of the water, completely covered in bruises and left temporarily blind by silt trapped under his eyelids, Quintana would be the only survivor of the flash flood.

    Quintana's account to Anderson of what happened in the slot canyon took away some of the mystery and guessing as to what exactly took place. Anderson uses the information as clues to help him in recovering the bodies of Wassenius of Sweden and Thierry Castell of France, who was 29 years old at the time.

    "As far as recovering those bodies, it could be 10 years from now, or tomorrow," Anderson said. "We've tried every resource known to man to try to find the bodies. We just want to find them and get them home."

    In this fifth year, Anderson and others helping in the search of the missing bodies have an advantage. The water level of Lake Powell is the lowest its been since the flood occurred five years ago. Most of the bodies recovered were found in the debris washed into the lake following the flood, and the receding water could help the people searching for the remains — most likely buried under the sediment.

    "In September, we're going back to do another search," Anderson said. "The lake is still going down, and we're still looking for signs" of a body.

    Summer of storms

    In 1997, the effects of the Pacific weather system known as "El Niño" impacted Northern Arizona. In early August of that year, storms threatened almost daily and weather reports showed nearly an inch of rain fell on some days — in a region that gets an average of nine inches of rain a year.

    "Three days prior to that flood, we had a lot of moisture," Anderson said.

    At 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 12, 1997, officers with the Arizona of Public Safety responded to reports of a washout on Route 98 near the 306 mile marker. The water flowed for some time, and officers stood watch to make sure no one would attempt to cross it.

    Meanwhile, the storm responsible for dumping the rain moved to Le Chee Rock, about 15 miles away from the narrow Antelope slot canyons. It unleashed rain onto the slick rock below, and the water funneled into the wash that runs through Antelope Canyon.

    The tours to Upper Antelope Canyon did not run that day, and the water rushed down through them and crossed Route 98, pooling up on the north side near the mouth of the lower slot.

    It was the consistency of a "chocolate milkshake," Anderson said, and contained debris such as beams from structures destroyed in the flood.

    "The water was about three to four feet deep in this valley," said Anderson, pointing out the open area by the bridge. "When that water came in, it filled up the canyon like that. I compare it to a fire hose. It just blasted in there."

    Most of the French tourists in the canyon at the time belonged to a tour group with the outfitter Trek America, based in California.

    The group had already toured the canyon, but six wanted to go back and use up the rest of their film — they planned to hike to a hole in the rock known as "Eye of the Eagle" arch.

    Quintana led them down, but less than 100 yards into the slot canyon, which becomes between 25 and 50 feet deep, the flash flood hit.

    Hiking down into the canyon, Anderson stops at a place where a portion of the wall juts out with an elephant-ear shape. Here, he said, Quintana and two members of the group tried to hold on against the force of the water.

    "Apparently, someone up the canyon came around and struck them, breaking up the group and sending them down," Anderson said.

    Ken Young and others would run to the end of the slot canyon and find Quintana, who managed to lodge his foot in a rock crevice.

    "We ran out that way," said Ken Young. "(The people with Trek America) just followed along with us." Young said beyond the place where he found Quintana, the water struck a canyon wall and shot 30 feet in the air. Both Anderson and Young agreed the man would not have survived if he went that far.

    The rest of the victims drowned, and all but one of the recovered bodies were found in Lake Powell. Only the body of Beatrice Aline, 20, of France, was recovered outside of the lake. Her body was found in a side tributuary of the canyon, and was the first one located.

    Crowds and confusion

    Within hours of the flood, dozens of curious Page residents made their way out to Antelope Canyon, and not soon after, several media helicopters and trucks arrived.

    Less than two days later, 167 media personnel — from the regional, national and international level — formed the press crew that followed and reported on the recovery effort.

    "We had to call in someone from the Grand Canyon just to coordinate the helicopter traffic," Anderson said, noting the recovery effort ran helicopters near the entrance to Lower Antelope and the media helicopters used a pad set up north of Route 98. "There was a lot of confusion."

    It took some time, given the hoards of people and the frenzy that ensued, to develop a list of the people inside the canyon at the time of the flood. Officers checked the cars left behind and spoke with members of the Trek America tour to finalize a list.

    As this occurred, the 10 and 12-year-old daughters of Paul and Anita Lohr, from France, grew upset back at their hotel room in Page, not knowing why their parents had yet to return.

    The couple, it turned out, drowned in the slot canyon. And when the two French girls sought help from hotel employees, they could not find someone who spoke French.

    "They had to get a translator in," Anderson said. "We ended up putting them with a French family to help comfort them."

    Meanwhile, the crews dispatched in the effort to find survivors or recover bodies could not do much at first because the water kept coming, and continued to flow until 4 a.m. the next morning.

    In the following days, a crew worked in Antelope Canyon on the lake — six miles down from the slot canyon, walking through the debris field in search of the bodies. Numerous police and cadaver dog teams came to assist, and the messy, traumatizing effort lasted a full week.

    Other agencies also worked on the recovery, including the National Park Service, Navajo Nation officials, the Page Fire Department, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Coconino County Search and Rescue, the Air National Guard and Maricopa County divers.

    It was during this time Antelope Canyon practically became a household name in France, as the French media filed numerous reports on the tragedy that left seven of its citizens dead.

    In a strange twist, the tragedy has apparently boosted the popularity of the canyon. Young said his business increased in the following years, with a number of visitors telling him they remembered reading or hearing about the flash flood.

    Joan Nevills-Staveley, director of the Page-Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce, said shortly after the flood, a flood of visitors arrived.

    "Right after the tragedy, we had a real surge of visitors to Antelope Canyon," Nevills-Staveley said, noting recent visitors have made comments about the deadly flood. "It's incredible how many people do know about it.

    It hasn't scared them away, but it's made them more aware. They equate the word `monsoon' with the slot canyon, and they'll ask, `Is it monsoon season?'"

    Safety measures

    Walking along the top of Lower Antelope Canyon, Anderson pointed out a series of locked metal boxes about three feet tall, which sit at the edge of the narrow canyon.

    Each box contains a cargo net that is secured by bolts mounted deep in the rock. The nets are measured perfectly to reach the bottom of the canyon when thrown down, and are weighted so they make the drop quickly.

    "They are stationed above popular gathering areas in the canyon," Anderson said, standing by the metal box above the location of Eye of the Eagle. "The boxes are unlocked on days where there's a threat of storms."

    The series of cargo nets serve as part of a greater plan to make the slot canyons, namely Lower Antelope, safer. Coconino County deputies have worked with the Navajo Nation to conduct drills in the slot canyon to increase the efficiency of response.

    Ken and Emily Young also keep a weather band radio and an air horn in the small building where they collect the fees to go into the canyon. If a flash flood warning is issued, they sound the horn and evacuate the canyon.

    Ken Young — who works at the Navajo Generating Station and has welding skills — also has constructed a metal stairway leading out of the canyon at the end of it. This provides another possible escape route.

    As far as educating the public, various agencies within Coconino County have created a Northern Arizona Flash Flood Advisory Committee, which provides public information on flash flood dangers.

    Also, Nevills-Stavely said the Chamber of Commerce — which sells tickets to slot canyon trips for a 15 percent commission from the outfitters — does not sell the tickets to people if there is a threat of heavy rains on a given day.

    As of Aug. 14, this summer included three days where the Chamber refused to sell the tickets, losing some of that commission.

    Quieter days

    For the first few years following the killer flash flood, Anderson and the Young received frequent visits from family and friends of those who lost their lives.

    But so far in this fifth year, no one has come to mourn or to attempt to learn more about the tragedy.

    Anderson said a number of loved ones visited early on to see what brought them to the canyon and attempt to answer questions about how a flood could have killed them.

    He said most gained some understanding into what happened. Everyone seemed to know why they came to visit.

    "One of the family members said to me `It's so beautiful, I hate it,'" Anderson said, explaining how the beauty of the narrow passage of rock drew people in, and that led to their deaths.
  2. chilislc

    chilislc Guest

    --- In canyons@y..., "mike_dallin" <dallin@o...> wrote: > An interesting news story about the 5th anniversary of the Antelope > Canyon flash flood that killed 11 people.
    > Mike,

    Thanks for the story. Joni and I spent about 3 hours in Lower Antelope on August 12 shooting photos. We were not aware of the significance of the date until Sam, one of the Young family who also works the booth, pointed out the date on the plaque to us. Sheriff came through about 2pm with a young man, must have been the reporter. Sam says that Ron does a walk through every year on the anniversary. Quiet day compared to most, according to Sam, mostly French speaking tourists. Hard to believe something so beautiful can turn so deadly. Rain coming, be careful out there.

    Regards, --Bob
Similar Threads: Antelope Canyon
Forum Title Date
General Discussion Antelope Canyon Flash Flood - New Book Jun 20, 2013
Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group TR: Antelope Canyon/Horseshoe Bend Oct 27, 2008
Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group Antelope Canyon, Oct 1, 2008 Oct 2, 2008
Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group West Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Betatakin Canyon, and Waterholes Canyon Aug 27, 2007
Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group info for antelope canyon? Nov 5, 2001
Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group Lower Antelope Canyon open? Sep 25, 2001