Flood 'Victim' Found Alive 32 Years Later

Darrell Johnson, Family Didn't Stay In Estes Park Cabin

A man considered missing and presumed dead in the 1976 Big Thompson Canyon flood is alive and well and living in Oklahoma.

The Big Thompson Canyon Flood on July 31, 1976 took the lives of 144 people, but now that number has to be amended to 143.

Six of the victims were listed as missing and presumed dead on a coroner's document. But Barb Anderson, a longtime Big Thompson Canyon resident, started researching the victims for the 25th anniversary of the flood and found one of the victims -- 63-year-old Darrell Johnson -- living in Oklahoma City.

"I just went 'Woo hoo!' I really did," Anderson said. "And he said, 'What's wrong?' And I said, 'Well, do you know you've been missing all these years and you are on this list of the six who were never found?'"

Johnson had no idea that people thought he was dead all these years.

He and his wife, Kathy, and their two young daughters took a vacation to Estes Park in July 1976 and booked a cabin at the Sleepy Hollow resort. When they arrived, they found it too rustic so they left without telling anyone. They went to Denver the morning of July 31 and visited an amusement park and the popular Casa Bonita restaurant.

When the storm and deadly flood struck that night, the cabin was washed away.

But Johnson and his family were gone. They never realized how close they came to being caught in it. At the time, the family thought they got a raw deal on the cabin. But now Johnson believes the poor condition of the cabin was a blessing.

Canyon residents host a memorial service every year on the anniversary of the flood. The Johnsons said they'll try to make it back to Colorado for next year's observance.