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Two dead after rafting accident on Nooksack River

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A commercially operated river raft carrying four customers and one guide flipped over in a rapid on the North Fork of the Nooksack River June 14. A 55-year-old man and his 10-year-old son died.

The raft overturned around 3 p.m. June 14 in the Nooksack near the Snowline neighborhood in Glacier, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) spokesperson Deb Slater said. The Wild & Scenic River Tours guide was able to save two women, but the father and son were swept downstream.

WCSO deputies dispatched Summit to Sound swift water rescue technicians, K-9 and drone operators. Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) and a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopter responded.

Records show the guide told rescuers that he lost sight of the man and boy after the raft flipped but believed they made it to shore.

Local kayakers affiliated with Glacier Fire and Rescue found the one body at 7:30 p.m. submerged in a log jam about half a mile from where the raft flipped. Search operations were suspended at dusk and resumed the following morning.

CBP helicopter spotted the body of the missing body downriver of the Highway 542 bridge west of Glacier at 3:45 p.m. June 15.

According to the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office, the cause of death of the first body was determined to be drowning, and it is believed the second body drowned as well but has not yet been determined. Slater said neither had any signs of trauma.

Both were wearing wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, she said.

According to the American Whitewater accident database, which lists reported river incidents since 1956, the accident was only the second fatal incident involving a commercial rafting company on the Nooksack. A 13-year-old Seattle area youth group member reportedly was washed under a raft after it hit a rock on the river in July 2001. Three other fatal incidents involving private vessels were listed.

The database lists 11 total fatal commercial whitewater incidents on Washington rivers since 1994, which averages to about one every two-and-half years.