A small group of people had a lot of hope Saturday morning that the third effort to get rope to a stranded hiker in Cottonwood Creek would work. But their hopes were dashed when the youth was washed downstream and drowned.
Jason Tripp, 17, West Valley City, had been hiking with a friend, Timothy Holdaway, 17, Sandy, about 200 yards above the Tanner's Flat Campground, two miles below Snowbird. The trail and camp is next to Cottonwood Creek, swollen with late spring runoff.Tripp wandered a few feet off the trail and fell in. For about 30 minutes, he was stranded in the creek, wedged between a rock and a log. Then the first equipped rescuer, county fireman Scott Anderson, arrived and began throwing a rope to Tripp, who was about 12 feet from either shore.
On the third try, he reached up for the rope, but, overtaken by hypothermia, exhaustion and fear, he didn't have the strength to hold on and tie it around himself. Tripp was washed downstream and drowned. Search and Rescue units with more efficient rescue equipment and wet suits were probably within 10 minutes of reaching the scene.
It was the third fatality in the canyon in seven days and the fourth serious accident in the Salt Lake Valley canyons in as many days.
Kevin Call, Sandy, was spending an overnighter in the canyon with his family. He said his children were outside the tent playing about 7:30 a.m. when he heard Holdaway, obviously worried, ask the children if their parents were nearby. Call immediately got out of the tent and went with Holdaway to the side of the river.
Quickly realizing that he couldn't help Tripp alone, he told Holdaway to stay at the scene, told his wife to contact the camp director and got in his car to get help.
Soon after leaving, he spotted an ambulance heading down the canyon from Snowbird station. Anderson, a volunteer fireman, was going to refuel. Call began to flash his lights and Anderson responded, contacting dispatchers and then racing to the scene.
Together, they grabbed rescue gear from the back of the ambulance and ran to the riverside. They were joined by a deputy sheriff and camp director Herbert Babbel. He tried to reach rescuers with his CB radio, but didn't succeed.
Babbel is no stranger to tragedy. In the past, he has helped rescue drivers who crashed into a reservoir. Another time, he helped save the life of a traffic accident victim. "It isn't new," he said, "but it's sad."
The frigid water had been only up to Tripp's waist when rescuers arrived, but over the next 15 minutes or so as they tried to get the rope to him, he began to slip lower and lower. On the last time, he had the rope in his hand but couldn't hang on.
Babbel watched him go several yards down the the river, pushed by waters so fierce that rescuers carefully using the correct equipment can barely negotiate them.
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Capt. Mike Wilkinson said as many as 35 people from Gold Cross Ambulance, the fire department, the sheriff's department, Search and Rescue, volunteer helicopter pilots, dog teams and LifeFlight responded to the scene to assist in the rescue and subsequent search for the victim.
His body was found Saturday at 3:40 p.m. and taken to the medical examiner's office, a county fire dispatcher said.
A psychologist and a nurse arrived at the scene and helped counsel Holdaway.
Wilkinson said Tripp, as well as other victims in recent accidents, was not doing anything particularly wrong. He said hundreds of hikers will probably walk where he was walking in the next week or so.
In a Wednesday afternoon accident, Brittany Pasborg, 16, Salt Lake City, died after falling 150 feet near the LDS permanent vault in the canyon. Another accident Tuesday in Ferguson Canyon seriously injured Chris Plant, 18, Salt Lake City. He fell about 30 feet.
And last Saturday, 10-year-old Toni Shelton was hiking with her father in Little Cottonwood Canyon when a large boulder crushed and killed her.