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  1. #1
    wandering utahn stefan's Avatar
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    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
    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.

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  3. #2
    Outdoor Guru sparker1's Avatar
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    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

  4. #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..........

  5. #4
    That's great that you've heard from him. Was in Antelope Canyon last month and was just reading about the flood.

  6. #5
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    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?

  7. #6
    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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