Good Samaritan, witness recount Moab river rescue of father and two sons

Jun 11, 2024, 7:43 AM

MOAB — A witness and a Good Samaritan in Moab recounted an incredible river rescue after a father and two sons flipped their inflatable kayak and became trapped in the rushing water.

The witness who saw the entire situation credits the quick action of two men for saving the family just in time, calling it a miracle.

Taking a quick drive out to the Colorado River last Thursday, Eric Odenthal took his friend Gaar Lausman up near Big Bend Campground so that Lausman could paddleboard down the river.

Having taken a trip down himself the day before in his pack raft, the outdoors guide and river expert described it as “rowdy,” saying the river is running fast and cold because of peak runoff.

“It’s fun and it’s enjoyable if you have the right gear,” Odenthal said. “But it’s very dangerous if you do not.”

As Lausman was getting out his gear, Odenthal happened to look out, as an inflatable kayak with a man and two kids, later identified as being 8 and 10 years old, flipped over in a rapid.

“I ended up seeing the kids floating downstream with one of the kids kind of facing down, struggling,” Odenthal said.

One of the boys was yelling for help. Odenthal said both boys did not appear to have the proper kinds of personal flotation devices for that section of the river.

The Colorado River just outside Moab. (KSL TV)

Odenthal didn’t have the right gear to jump into the fast-moving, dangerous current, either, because he was only dropping off his friend. But Lausman did.

“I was like, ‘You need to go right now. This is really important. You just get those kids out of the water, flip their boat, save them,'” Odenthal said, of what he told Lausman. “You know, if I had my gear, I would have been out there at the exact same time.”

Lausman hopped on his paddleboard to get to the kids, but Odenthal could see the dad was too far downstream, without a life jacket. He said the father appeared to have a horseshoe collar PFD with him that was floating away because the man wasn’t actually wearing it.

“I’m watching this gentleman float on his back, like struggling. He’s getting pulled by eddies. His face is barely above water,” Odenthal recounted. “He looked like the debris that was floating down the river. He looked exactly like logs.”

As the undertow threatened to pull dad underwater, a man appeared on a jet ski.

“It was literally a miracle this guy showed up,” Odenthal expressed.

Daniel Wright jet skis up to a man, whose head is barely bobbing above the water. (Photo courtesy: Eric Odenthal)

Daniel Wright said he was traveling upstream, having come out to the Colorado River alone that day.

He said at first, he thought he was looking at debris or a floating log in the water, before he realized it was a person. He said Lausman got his attention and was signaling to him toward the father who was struggling to stay afloat.

“He bobbed down in the water, and he only was down in the water maybe 2 inches — and he completely disappeared,” Wright said.

Odenthal took a few photos as he watched Wright make his way toward the man, saying he could tell the dad was on his last breath.

Wright could see it too.

“All I remember, just… I had to help them. I had to get him,” Wright said, of what was going through his mind.

The father used his last strength to stick up his hand toward Wright, and Odenthal happened to take a photo the moment the man’s arm reached out of the current, fingers outstretched for help.

“He realized that was it,” Wright said. “That was what he had left, was reaching out to me.”

It was just enough to grab each other, and Wright pulled the man to the riverbanks.

“I gave him a hug and I embraced him, you know, when I got him out of the water, because it was an emotional moment and I think we both realized what had just happened,” Wright said.

Everyone was safe, though Wright said the boys were shaking and scared. Their father, Wright explained, was puking up water and barely able to move. He lay there, completely exhausted.

The drowning man sticks his hand out of the water in one last attempt to be saved by Daniel Wright. (Photo courtesy: Eric Odenthal)

Wright wondered why the three didn’t have the right kind of personal flotation devices.

“As soon as I got him out of the water, I asked him, ‘Why don’t you have a life vest?'” Wright recounted.

Odenthal expressed the same concerns, saying the family was ill-prepared for the power of spring runoff.

Grand County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue posted about the incident, saying the 10-year-old was wearing a belt-pack personal flotation device that ended up forcing the boy’s face into the water because he had flipped over.

The 8-year-old, Grand County search and rescue crews explained, was wearing a personal flotation device that was too big and failed to keep his head above water.

“GCSAR would like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to wear adequate, properly-fitted, properly-worn PFDs everywhere on the Colorado River,” Grand County SAR wrote, in their post. “The river’s surface can appear deceptively calm, while violent currents just a few inches underwater can pull a swimmer down or sweep a person farther down from shore.”

They posted several tips in the comments of the post, recommending people to stay alert to changing conditions, know where they’re going, know how to self-rescue, stay aware of debris and driftwood, dress for an extremely cold swim and be prepared to help others.

While a huge lesson was learned, above all, Wright and Odenthal expressed gratefulness that three lives were saved.

“It’s good that Gaar and Daniel were there to rescue this family, and help them enjoy another day of life,” Odenthal said.

“I’m just really thankful,” Wright said. “I really just think God just had me right there at the right time.”

Officials remind swimmers to be cautious before stepping foot in water this summer

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Good Samaritan, witness recount Moab river rescue of father and two sons