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03-02-2007, 07:04 PM #1
Antelope Canyon Flash Flood Remembered
in an effort to compile dramatic canyoneering stories i thought i'd post this one from 5 years ago, a reflection on the flash flood that occured 10 years ago, this coming august, when 11 people died in a slot in antelope canyon, AZ. if you've heard Quintana speak about this on television it's gripping ... Quintana was the guide and, miraculously, the only survivor. one day he wishes to create a movie reenactment of the event to educate others about the power and reality of flash floods in slot canyons.
Remembering the flood
By Seth Muller Lake Powell Chronicle
Aug 22 2002
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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?'"
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
"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
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
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
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.
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.
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03-03-2007, 09:25 PM #2
We were out here on the 5th anniversary and saw the TV interview with the guide. he was obviously affected quite a lot by the unfortunate experience. He said he had no idea how he survived, and I have to agree with that assessment. It was a minor miracle.Stan
Check out my photo gallery at www.pbase.com/sparker1
06-06-2010, 06:55 PM #3
Just relaying a message from whom appears to be Pancho Quintana, relayed via the "Contact Us" link up top. Hopefully he can fill us in with some more details:
Hey,This is Pancho the only survivor of the Antelope Canyon accident..I read your article.A few thing aren"t quite correct..I have documents that show that Ken Young wasnt even at the canyon till long after i was found...No one pulled me out of the water..I could of climbed out but didnt have time to tell the others. So i decided to stay with them insted..My book is finished and being shopped right now,so with the Sheriffs documents,police reports,and the Navajo statements ,one which is Ken Youngs I'm going to set the whole story strait......Incuded will be the life changing events that transpired throughout the years and what it took to stop the dead bodies that swam uncontrolable in my head for over a decade..........
06-07-2010, 01:48 AM #4
08-01-2010, 10:25 AM #5
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- Aug 2010
- Atlanta, Ga.
My family and I just visited Arizona this past week and were caught in a flash flood in the Upper Antelope Canyon. I will be posting some pictures and a more detailed description of what happened. I actually met Deputy Ron Anderson and he told me about the accident in the lower canyon. Does anyone know if Pancho ever published his book?
04-13-2011, 07:22 AM #6
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- Apr 2011
I was one of the Trek America tourists, who was down in the Canyon 10 minutes before the flood hit. I went out to get my tripod, but then decided not to go back down... lucky me! I have a scrapbook containing a load of pictures from that tour complete with Poncho and the whole group... half of whom tragically died. There is hardly a week goes by when I don't think about that awfull day. I am still trying to get in touch with Poncho so if anyone knows how to contact him? I have tried Lt Ron Anderson, but he has not heard from him in sometime.
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