BINGHAM — The death of a York man in a whitewater rafting mishap Saturday on the Dead River has been ruled a drowning.

Cpl. John MacDonald, public relations and information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said Monday that Richard Sanders, 67, of York, died after drowning in the river.

North Country Rivers, which was guiding the commercial trip that included Sanders, said in a statement Sanders was ejected from the raft on the river in West Forks Plantation, which is 50 miles north of the Somerset County seat in Skowhegan.

Contacted by phone Monday, Sanders’ widow, Peggy, said her husband was more of an indoors guy who liked to do woodworking.

“He loved to woodwork,” Peggy Sanders, 63, said. “He went rafting with our son. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

Jim Murton, the owner of North Country Rivers, said in a statement that Sanders might have suffered from a health issue before or during the rafting accident.

MacDonald, at the inland fisheries department, said he didn’t know about any prior health issues. Sanders’ wife would not comment on her late husband’s health.

In the past decade, there have been four deadly rafting accidents in Maine. Of those, three fatal rafting accidents were on the Kennebec River and the Dead River — all of them involving North Country Rivers, based in Bingham.

In May of last year, a chaperon with a group of four Boy Scouts, died during a similar commercial rafting trip with North Country Rivers along the same stretch of the Dead River.

McDonald said the North Country Rivers rafting guide has 24 years of experience.

Maine’s whitewater rafting season runs from May to mid-October, and involves the Kennebec, Penobscot and Dead rivers. The Dead River, at 16 miles, is the longest stretch of continuous whitewater rafting in Maine, and runs through sections of Class IV and V rapids that are considered very or extremely difficult because of obstacles, vertical drops and strong currents.

Murton said there were five rafts running tightly together on Saturday. All of the rafts were guided by registered Maine whitewater guides, and the trip conformed to all safety regulations mandated by law and rule. All guests were outfitted with proper safety equipment — life jackets, helmets and full wet suits.

Sanders was in a raft carrying seven passengers, including the guide. Game wardens say all passengers were ejected when the raft flipped on a remote portion of the river called Mile Long Rapid.

Some witnesses indicated Sanders might have been submerged in the river for several minutes. He was pulled from the water and lifesaving measures were performed by North Country Rivers employees and others. Those attempts were unsuccessful.

Sanders was wearing a life jacket as required by law and a helmet, as required by the rafting company’s policy. West Forks Fire and Rescue as well as the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department assisted at the scene.

In the last 10 years, there have been four fatal whitewater rafting incidents, according to MacDonald: May 2008, New England Outdoors, on the West Branch of the Penobscot River; September 2008, North Country Rivers, on the Kennebec River; May 2016, North Country Rivers, on the Dead River; and now June 2017, North Country Rivers, on the Dead River.

There were two more recorded whitewater rafting fatalities on the Dead River between 1996 and 2006.

The total number of commercial whitewater rafters in Maine has been estimated at between 56,000 and 60,000 during the last two years, according to the inland fisheries department.

Murton said Saturday was one of eight controlled water release days each year from Long Falls Dam, when the water typically measures 5,000 cubic feet per second.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: