SALIDA, Colo. — David Torchia wasn’t sure he’d survive as he struggled for air in the Arkansas River after the whitewater raft he had been riding on a central Colorado river swept over a dam and overturned during the weekend.
“That was a near-death experience I didn’t think I’d be getting out of,” the Sylvania resident said Monday. “We were all being tossed around. It felt like being in a washing machine ... like a rag doll, being tossed around and turned around without any control of things.”
A Utah woman remained missing Monday following the incident Saturday night on the Arkansas River near Salida. A second Sylvania resident, a Rossford man, and a Bowling Green woman were among five others on the raft who made it to shore.
Mr. Torchia, 22, a 2010 St. Francis de Sales High School graduate soon to be a senior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, was treated for bruises and hypothermia at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center in Salida, according to the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office. The missing woman, Amanda Taylor, 31, of Vernal, Utah was apparently swept downstream by fast-moving current after the accident, according to the sheriff’s office.
He said the rafters had just missed a boat ramp at which they had intended to leave the water in the 10 p.m. darkness Saturday when the raft went over a diversion dam and dropped about eight feet down a waterfall. The raft initially stayed upright, but then was sucked into the waterfall and flipped, dumping everyone in the water.
Mr. Torchia ended up beneath the overturned raft, then hung onto its side for about an hour in the cold water before he was rescued. He said he was periodically sucked under the falling water and beneath the surface, struggling for breaths, as the raft turned.
“That was a nightmare,” Mr. Torchia, a camp consultant at Rocky Mountain Village Easter Seals Camp in Empire, Colo., said. “I thought I was the only one alive.”
Sheriff’s deputies said Mr. Torchia and his companions, who put the raft into the river at Fisherman’s Bridge south of Buena Vista, Colo., were rafting with the intent to arrive at the Salida boat ramp about 10 p.m. when their raft went over the dam.
Five members of the group were found on the Arkansas River’s west shore, near Chaffee County Road 160 and across from a local construction company, shortly after emergency dispatchers received a 911 call from a member of the rafting group about 10:30 p.m.
Mr. Torchia was found minutes later, in the river near its east bank, clinging to the overturned raft. Salida firefighters used a rope to wade and swim to the raft and then a throw bag to bring him to safety.
The empty raft was later recovered in the river a half-mile north of Salida’s F Street Bridge about 2 a.m. Sunda. A search for the Ms. Taylor continued Monday, said County Undersheriff John Spezze, who was on duty when he spotted the overturned raft with Mr. Torchia clinging to it.
Mr. Spezze said it was firefighter Brian Jefferson who, while tethered to shore, swam to a small island near Mr. Torchia and then tossed a throw bag that Mr. Torchia caught on the second try and held while he was pulled to safety.
Rafting with Ms. Taylor and Mr. Torchia were John Spalvins, 54, of Littleton, Colo., who owned the raft; Alex Marzec, 22, of Rossford, Ashley Noble, 21, of Bowling Green, Jill Bryant, 53, of Estes Park, Colo., and John Wallace, 22, of Sylvania.
Participating in the rescue effort was the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, Salida Fire Department, Chaffee County Search and Rescue, Chaffee County Emergency Medical Services, and Colorado State Parks.
Mr Torchia said everybody wore a life jacket, and the bruises all over his body still ached on Monday.
Salida is about 90 miles west of Pueblo, Colo., and 125 miles southwest of Denver.