Search for missing rafter, Amanda Taylor, continues Sunday on Arkansas River in Chaffee County

Utah woman disappeared after raft flipped Saturday

SALIDA, Colo. - Authorities continued to search for a missing Utah woman Sunday whose raft flipped on the Arkansas River near Salida Saturday night.

The Chaffee County Sheriff's Office identified the woman as Amanda Amanda Taylor, 31, of Vernal, Utah. Family and friends were driving to Salida Sunday to join the search for Taylor.

Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said his agency received a 911 call about 5 10:30 p.m. Saturday from a member of a seven-person rafting group who said their private raft had flipped over a diversion dam, dumping everyone in the water, at about 10 p.m. The dam is about 6 feet high and is located 1 mile west of Salida, Spezze said.

Spezze, who was on patrol duty, found five members of the group who made it to shore near County Road 160. The group said two people missing were still missing.

Spezze spotted a man clinging to the overturned raft below the dam.

Two Salida firefighters, a Salida police officer and sheriff's deputy soon arrived to assist Spezze.

Firefighter Brian Jefferson decided that the only way to rescue the man was for Jefferson to attempt to reach him by wading into the current while tethered to shore with three other first-responders anchoring his lifeline, Spezze said.

Jefferson battled frigid, swift currents to swim to a mid-river island. Jefferson and the other rescuers pulled the man to safety. 

"I'm telling you (Jefferson) is a hero because the river current is well over 1,800 cubic feet per second," the undersheriff said.

The rescued man, David Torchia, 22, from Sylvania, Ohio was taken by ambulance to Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries and hypothermia, Spezze said.

The search and rescue team searched the water and banks of the river for Taylor without success until 4 a.m., when the search was suspended.

The search resumed at 7 a.m. Sunday when the Arkansas Headwaters State Park search and rescue team used four boats to search the river downstream from the dam. The boat teams traveled 30 miles south of Salida on the river without finding Taylor, Spezze said.

Now searchers have returned to the area where the raft flipped to again search that area, he added.

The sheriff's office identified other members of the rafting party as John Spalvins, 54, of Littleton, Colorado, owner of the raft; Alex Marzec, 22, of Rossford, Ohio; Ashley Noble, 21, of Bowling Green, Ohio; Jill Bryant, 53, residence unknown; and John Wallace, 22, of Sylvania, Ohio.

Spezze said the rafting group got a late start on Saturday and then had trouble exiting the river after the sun set, because they couldn't find a safe area to land the raft on the swift-moving river.

There is a boat chute that skirts the diversion dam, but the rafting party missed it in the darkness, Spezze said.

Agencies participating in the rescue effort include the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, Salida Fire Department, Chaffee County Search and Rescue, Chaffee County Emergency Medical Services, and Colorado State Parks.

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