Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Veteran river guide drowns on South Fork of Payette River

Hailey resident involved in rescue attempt

Express Staff Writer

Dean Fairburn, a 45-year-old veteran river guide from Garden Valley, died on Sunday, July 1, after his raft capsized and his foot became entrapped in rocks below the Class IV Staircase rapids, located on the South Fork of the Payette River.

According to the Associated Press, the guide company owner, J.B. Lawler, said Fairburn, along with five passengers, was tossed into the water when the paddle-raft he was guiding flipped around 12:30 p.m.

While the passengers made it safely through the rapid, Fairburn became pinned against a rock, his wedged foot keeping him in the strong current.

"The two situations that are fatal 95 percent of the time are being caught in a 'strainer' and foot entrapment," said Matt Lutz, a Hailey resident and Salmon River outfitter who played a large part in the rescue attempt.

Lutz, also a volunteer firefighter and medic for Wood River Fire and Rescue, was driving home from McCall on the road between Banks and Lowman when he spotted an empty raft bobbing against the rocks in a rapid. An avid boater, Lutz recognized a potential problem, a suspicion that was confirmed when he parked at a pullout at the top of the rapid and saw Fairburn fighting to keep his head above water.

Taking his life jacket from his car, Lutz had to run upstream in order to cross the river, as this was the only angle for possible rescue.

Lutz attached a safety line to a raft, which other boaters held while he paddled the raft out to the rock where he was soon joined by two kayakers, one male and one female.

After a number of attempts, they managed to get Fairburn's body out of the water and onto the rock where Lutz performed CPR for approximately five minutes.

"By the time we got him out of the water, it was around 20 minutes since his last breath," Lutz said. "With his foot entrapped, his head was being pushed down into the water by the current, and he was completely unconscious and cyanotic."

Lutz said the unidentified male kayaker, who Lutz recognized as a Ketchum-area boater, did a commendable job, showing no concern for his own equipment as he helped pull Fairburn from the water.

On land, Lutz and other bystanders continued CPR for another 15 minutes, and efforts to revive Fairburn were continued by an emergency crew that arrived at the scene.

"It was not at all his fault," Lutz said of the accident. "It was one of those situations where he got unlucky."

Lutz said he did not know the victim, but said Fairburn had a very good reputation in the boating community and was well respected.

Lawler said Fairburn was married with two young sons, and taught math and technology at Garden Valley High School.

"The hardest thing was not being able to save him after seeing him alive in the water," Lutz said. "Everyone on the scene did the best they could. Unfortunately, we weren't quick enough."

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