Chopper Recovers Bodies Of Couple Who Drowned In Slot Canyon

Hikers Hit With Flash Flood At Grand Staircase

The bodies of a California couple who drowned inside a slot canyon during a flash flood were recovered Thursday morning by a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter.

Kathy Chapple and her husband, Gordon Chapple, from Walnut Creek, Calif., were hiking with six others at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument when a flash flood hit the Egypt Trailhead area at about 2:30 p.m., said the Garfield County Sheriff's Office.

"It was maybe two or three minutes from when the rain started to fall and when they were hit by the water. It was so fast they hardly had any time to react at all," said Becki Bronson, spokeswoman for the Garfield County Sheriff's Office.

The two guides, the Chapples' son and daughter, and the two other hikers in the group were able to cling to the side of the rock and crawl out because it was wide enough and the water was slow enough in that area to make that possible.

But the Chapples, who were both 60 years old, were too far down the canyon and were swept away by the floodwaters, Bronson said.

"They were not in a place where they could get themselves out. The water was too strong and the opening was too small too eddy out," she said.

The survivors hiked out for about three hours and called 911 when their phones received a signal.

"That country is some of the most remote, dangerous terrain on earth. When we have to go in there we have to take a helicopter. It is just too dangerous to bring rescue crews in otherwise," Bronson said. "And getting any kind of signal is next to impossible."

The couple's bodies were spotted Wednesday night, downstream at a drainage, by search crews flying overhead in a Classic Life Guard Helicopter out of Page, Ariz.

On Thursday morning, the Utah Highway Patrol chopper landed inside a wide part of the canyon and crews were able to retrieve the bodies. They flew the bodies to the Hole-In-The-Rock road, where a funeral home vehicle was waiting.

The others in the hiking group were identified Thursday afternoon as the victims' son and daughter -- Chris and Katie, 30-year-old Liz Fries, 33-year-old Tom Schrupp, and guides Elizabeth Kleiman and Cody Clapp from Capitol Reef Backcountry Outfitters.

The hiking group had been riding horses, riding all-terrain vehicles and doing other outdoor activities with the guides since Monday.

On Wednesday, the group started their trek at 10:30 a.m. inside a canyon locals call Egypt Three or Egypt Slot Number Three.

Four hours later, it started to rain.

"This completely blindsided all of them. They did everything that was expected of them. They were with guides who were experienced, who live in the area, who understand the country, and they made an educated decision to take the risk to go into the slot canyon," Bronson said. "I believe that if the guides had any idea that it was going to rain, they wouldn't have gone in. They live in Wayne County, adjacent to Garfield County. They know what they are doing. I believe that they knew all the risks. But when it comes to slot canyons, it isn't enough to say that you've got all your equipment, and you've checked the forecasts and don't see a cloud in the sky. Storms can happen miles away that you don't even see."

Clapp is the founder of Backcountry Outfitters, and has guided hundreds of people since his professional guiding career began in 1994, according to the company's Web site. Kleiman, a former Denver resident, is a registered nurse who lives part-time in Wyoming and part-time in Utah. She has been guiding since 1998, according to the Web site.

The deaths are a reminder to hikers that going into a slot canyon is not to be an adventure to be taken lightly. Slot canyons are known for their narrow passageways.

Rick Green, a professional guide from Escalante who aided in the search for the Chapples, said once you enter this particular slot canyon, you're committed for about three hours before you come to a place where you can get out safely.

"It's just extremely dangerous, and in my opinion, one of the most dangerous things anyone can do. Going into a slot canyon is a very dangerous risk even on the best of days. It could be sunny, with not a cloud in the sky. But everybody who enters a slot canyon is taking a big risk -- they are taking their lives in their own hands," Bronson said. "Drowning in slot canyons is more common than people think."

"A storm could be literally miles away, you don't even have to be able to see the storm, for it to cause swift flooding in a slot canyon. As far as I'm concerned, if there is even one cloud in the sky anywhere, I wouldn't go near a slot canyon, it's just too risky and dangerous," said deputy Ray Gardner.

Three years ago, two students at Brigham Young University died in a deep slot canyon not too far away. They had on rappelling gear and wetsuits. They would swim in the pools of water and then hike or climb in the dry parts of the canyon, Bronson said.

"They died of hypothermia. The water was just too cold," Bronson said.

Then in March, a Brighton, Colo., man was rappelling with a group in the Three Forks area when he got stuck. The skinniest part of the narrows was smaller than 16 inches wide. Rob Lougee did not have the gear or the ability to back up and he couldn't go down, so he waited for help on a ledge about the size of a kitchen table. He spent the night there and was rescued the next morning by the Garfield County Search and Rescue team and a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter.

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