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Man drowns near Glen

Published September 02. 2018 09:11PM

A New York man drowned while rafting in the Lehigh River on Saturday about halfway between Glen Onoko and Glen Haven Junction, at mile marker 113 on the Lehigh Gorge Trail.

Carbon County Coroner Robert W. Miller Jr. said Christopher Santana, 33, was rafting with a group of nine people when he went into the water a little before 1 p.m.

Jim Thorpe Fire Department, Lehigh & Lausanne Rural Volunteer Fire Company Lehighton Fire Department’s dive team responded.

“We were told he was sitting on edge of the raft, which hit a rock and he was thrown off,” Miller said.

Santana’s foot became wedged in a rock, trapping him, according to officials.

Lehigh & Lausanne Rural Volunteer Fire Company chief Timothy E. Rossman said emergency crews were dispatched at about 1 p.m. Saturday.

Initially, firefighters understood a 5-year-old had fallen out of a raft.

“But when we got there, it was determined to be a 33-year old male,” Rossman said.

Rossman and Jim Thorpe Fire Department Chief Vince Yaich both said the man’s foot had become caught in rocks.

“The water there is about 4 feet deep. Several people, family and guides, tried to get him, but they couldn’t get him loose,” he said. “He was visible from the shore line, but was under the water, and had had a very long extended down time. We had (Lehighton Fire Department’s) dive team come in.

“We strung ropes across the river with the help of the rafting company, commandeered a raft, and retrieved the gentleman from the water,” he said.

“By the time we got out there, and located him, it was a recovery effort,” Yaich said.

“Jim Thorpe Fire Department and Lehigh and Lausanne assisted the divers with ropes and anything else they needed for the recovery,” he said.

Yaich said the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is in charge of the investigation because it happened on a waterway.

The man was rafting with Pocono Whitewater, Yaich said. “We really can’t say much at this time because the Fish & Boat Commission is doing its investigation,” said Sierra Fogal, guide manager for business.

Rossman, who had heard that rafting guides may have asked the man to keep his feet in the raft, had a word of advice for rafters.

“Listen to your river guides when you are out on rafting trips. It may save your life,” he said.

I was in the same group as this guy and his family. Pocono Whitewater should be ashamed of themselves for what can only be described as a complete and total lack of foresight, staffing and safety protocol. We were given very little instruction at all. The training spent more time on how to keep your lunch dry than on how to actually control the boat. There were less than 5 guides for 35 rafts, each with 5-9 people in them. The guides had absolutely no control over the groups. Dozens of rafts were passing through dangerous rapids completely out of control and there were nowhere near enough guides to help them. We were more experienced and had control of our boat and when we asked our "guide" which way to go, he said "What?!" and proceeded down the river as if he was on a casual float on his own. We noticed that every guide had a helmet on, yet the customers weren't even offered a helmet. Why?

Pocono Whitewater allowed completely inexperienced clients into class 3 rapids with little to no instruction, nowhere near enough guides and no semblance of control. Even on a class 3 dam release day, they still rented water squirt guns to kids. How irresponsible and money hungry do you have to be to put toys in the hands of kids who very much need to be aware of their surroundings and watching where they are going?

I hope this family sues and wins. I will be glad to be of help as a witness. I am genuinely sorry for their loss and thankful to have made it out safely with my group. The rapids, especially on a dam release are very dangerous and need to be taken seriously. This is where I believe Pocono Whitewater truly failed. They did nothing to make anyone aware of the true dangers, framing it as a fun chance to splash and play with water guns. Renting an unguided boat to beginners and children on a dam release day is irresponsible and appallingly greedy on the part of this company and the practice should not be allowed to continue.
I was on the exact boat my brother went in. It's very sad they had no safety protocol for an accident like this. To watch him stuck on a rock and the instructors not being abe to rescue him is devasting. I don't understand why safety wasn't there biggest concern..... Thank you for your words if you could please put your contact information- email- number- anything it would be greatly appreciated.
I was on the boat with gshipf. We are absolutely devastated for you and your family, and we've been purposely posting in hopes that you would find us in case you need witnesses (though we didn't actually see the accident). Email me at if you want to get in contact with our group.
I was there when this happened. I just wnat to say how very sorry I am for your loss. I have been thinking about you and your family since this day. I was not with PW, I was with White Water Adventures. A guy from my group dove in to try to save your brohter. Another guy from my boat was the one who called 911. It was very confusing to me, did the guides not have phones? The guy who called 911 had to yell t the guides to find out where we were. I'm not sure why the news reports that they thought it was a child. It was known that it was an adult. I can honestly say, it seemed like they gave up on your brother. They guy from my boat wanted them to wrap the chains around the tree and go in. The guide said that he's been under 3-4 minutes. The guy from my boat said he didnt give a f**k, if it was him he would want them to do everything to try to save him. He offered to go in himself with the chain or they wanted to a human chain and were told no. This was my first time and last time ever going white water rafting. This absolutely traumatized me and it showed that if my life is in a dangerous situation, they're not going to save me.

I will say one guide from PW did go in, they guy from my boat helped get him out of the water. Also the guy from my group that dove in tried. The guys were very upset. I saw a lot of crying. Once our guide said we had to go, it was awful. Went from having fun, splashing just like everyone complete silence, sadness and just traumatizing.

I can say White Water Adventures did do good safety training before hand. BUT like everyone said, people did have their legs out of the boat, 4 people in my boat had their legs out an NOBODY said a word. The guides were very unorganized when this tragedy happened. Did they have phones? How do they communicate when there's an emergency??? If they have phones, why didnt they call 911? They had complete strangers to the area call 911.

Again, I'm very sorry for your loss. If you need to reach out to me, my email address is

I will continue thinking of you and your family.

Pocono Whitewater and the rafting industry at large adheres to state regulations that mandate the amount of guests per the amount of guides on each trip. They also require the safety information you said was lacking, to literally be spelled out for guests on signs in the briefing area, verbally from the trip leader during briefing, and I believe on the personal liability waiver each guest is required to read and sign.

You're right, there are a LOT of (typically) inexperienced guests assigned to each guide. It's not fair and simply not possible to focus your attention on one guest over the rest of the trip. If this guest was told repeatedly to keep his feet in and not stand up in moving water, both before and during the trip, there is only so much the guide can do. The responsibility lies with the one taking these unnecessary and extremely dangerous risks.

I'd also like to point out that this is not an overly dangerous river. Thousands of people ride this section of the Lehigh each dam release with absolutely no problem and have a great, rewarding time in doing so. It brings people together while accomplishing goals as a team, while also bringing them closer to nature and this beautiful natural and scenic area.

It's the rafting company's goal to provide this experience to others and offer the most positive and safe experience possible. The guides are there for your safety, but also to make it a positive, uplifting experience. It would be a much different experience if they were screaming rules at you the entire time and keeping constant life-threatening fear on the forefront of your mind.

It is NOT hard to follow simple common sense, listen to the important safety protocol, respect the river and the guides, and manage to stay alive. No disrespect to the victim, but it is not reasonable to put the responsibility of one person's actions on others. Whitewater rafting is an experience that can truly change your life for the better, if you respect this powerful force of nature.

I'm sorry that your retention of the safety-briefing focused primarily on your lunch, but I know from experience that there is much more information provided during this time. For most people, keeping their lunch dry is a relevant and important piece of information, just like the safety protocols and how to maneuver your raft. The dangers of foot entrapment are stressed in EVERY briefing.

Helmets are not required on class III rivers for rafters. They are for kayakers who are fixed in their boats which may flip, leaving their heads closer to the bottom of the river. That is why kayakers wear helmets and Class I-III rafters do not.

Peace and condolences to the family.
I think we can both agree that there is a level of risk assumed by the person taking the risk, in this case the client. That being said pocono whitewater is the company providing a service and their own expertise for a fee.

How many rafts can one guide handle? We had 35+ rafts and 5 guides? Is that safe? Is there any responsibility on the part of PW to provide a reasonable ratio of guides to boats? We also know that this river varies drastically in flow. On a day where the rapids will be up due to a dam release is there any liability on the company to project this danger and at least ask people if they have any experience?
I have a ton of experience on the water and I had control over my raft. We were asking guides which way to go and there was no response. They simply could not effectively communicate information to the number of people they were assigned to.

If PW cared about their customers safety above the level of lip service they would have a set ratio of guides to clients and it would not be broken. The only reason we were out there with too many guests and not enough guides is because it would cost more to have more guides. They ran the business lean to increase profits and they got lucky for awhile.

When we got in line to receive our raft, we said we had 4 people. Others yelled that they had 9. The PW workers yelled out to ask if 9 was ok. Some shrugged shoulders and others said it should be fine. The very group containing the victim had 9 people on board. The picture taken by and posted publicly by pocono whitewater proves that. (I have the picture) Their own site says that rafts accommodate 4-6 people. So why are their 9 in the victims boat? They are there because splitting the group would take longer and would require more effort. This operation had a lack of protocols and was operating in a dangerous way, bottom line. 9 people in a 6 person boat proves that.

You and I agree about people taking responsibility for themselves. But these people didn’t buy a raft at Walmart and jump into the river alone. They went to a guide service and did what they though they were supposed to. Did you ever wonder if maybe a leg was outside the boat because there was no room inside? I will send you the picture if you’d like and you will see that it is overloaded. Here’s is the best part: it’s not the only one, not by a long shot. There are many boats in the pictures with 8-9 people each. These weren’t kids, there were 9 fully grown adults in their raft.

You said I may have not absorbed the training in detail. You are wrong, I was worried when I saw how busy the place was so I listened carefully. At no point did they give us any training on how to steer a raft. How can you as a company assume people have control over a raft when you have given zero guidance on that aspect of the sport? PW was releasing overpacked rafts full of people with no idea on even basic steering techniques into class 3 rapids. Any person who loves rafting would have to agree this practice is bad for the sport as a whole.
I think you’ve made a lot of good points about personal responsibility. That is part of this, no doubt. But legal compliance and a going above and beyond to ensure safety are two different things. Also, “stressing” and “mentioning” safety precautions are two different things. When you’re told about foot snags with a delivery that is meant for laughs, people put their guard down. When you’re watching a bunch of kids spraying each other with water guns rented from the company, you put your guard down. There’s a balance here between the legal requirements and running a company with integrity where protocols that aren’t legally required are put in place.

“It is NOT hard to follow simple common sense, listen to the important safety protocol, respect the river and the guides, and manage to stay alive.” With your background, perhaps it was common sense. It may not be for people who have never been on the water. They are relying on the company’s expertise to guide them and give them more than just the fine print. People use more than just the words on a piece of paper or during briefing to interpret the danger they are in. Body language, tone, and analysis of other groups’ actions and the guides’ reactions all contribute to the interpretation of the situation.

I'm not saying PW is legally at fault, but I hope they use this situation to do the right thing and improve their safety and rescue program, even if it requires them to go above and beyond the legal requirements. All I really want is for stories like this to be widespread so that new customers planning trips like this know what they're in for.
I was also on this trip. We were the first raft down the river after he went in, and we passed directly over him. While most rafts were taken further downriver we were taken to the side, about 20 yards from where he was. As such I witnessed a mix of emotions by the guides (who, it must be said, were trying desperately to reach him), but also what I later described to my family as a complete lack of foresight, and a rescue attempt that seemed cobbled together. I don't for a second doubt the desire of the guides to rescue him, but humanity doesn't save people, a carefully thought out, and tried and tested, health and safety plan does. And it appeared sorely lacking.
Hi Chip, it's Happy to tell you everything that happened from my perspective, which is more than I wrote here. Craig
My sincere condolences to the loved ones of Mr Santana. Thanks to everyone who has been commenting on this unfortunate situation, but why are we reading this information only in the comments section? We are getting more news from the comments than from the newspaper itself or from the whitewater outfitters. The Times News should be writing a front-page investigative report, interviewing both witnesses and rafting company personnel, and holding people’s feet to the fire. We need solid journalism here. If the whitewater outfits are perceived to be lax with their safety regulations, this could seriously impact tourism, which is the mainstay of the local economy. This is the second major incident on the river in the past two weeks, and the public perception is one of neglect and carelessness. The whitewater outfitters have already failed the first test in crisis management: get out there right away with a strongly worded statement indicating they are serious about taking charge of the situation.
I am so sorry for everyone involved. The family, the guests, the guides, the rescue personnel, and anyone that this story has touched. I was kayaking the river that day with some of my family and happen to be in the parking lot when the family was told.

I also happen to be a past river guide for Pocono Whitewater. The river at any level or section is something to be respected. While guiding with them the guides responsibility is to make sure all the guests have a great time but most important a safe one. From the time you arrive you are being instructed for your safety like I have told many no high heals (Yes lots do try), no bare feet. Each person is fitted by a guide for proper fit of a PFD, and all day long on the trip we are reminding them to keep it on and make sure it is all buckled. During the briefing there are a set of instruction bullet points for each trip with a visual and verbal instructions along with a double check with another guide that they were all addressed. While on the river the guides continuously have to tell people keep your feet inside the raft, do not splash with the paddles, Put your PFD on, tighten it up, snap all the buckles. If you are in the water everyone wants to try and stand, that's not good. lay on your back, feet down river, toes and nose to the sky. So many guests do not listen and that is why some get hurt.

Please don't take this as pointing a finger at anyone. It is a very unfortunate tragedy that can happen to anyone.

Please be safe on the water.
Ed, thank you for giving your informed perspective. Based on what you are saying and my personal experience that day, I think it is safe to say that these safety protocols fell apart on the day in question. Other than the PFD and a brief mention of feet up, everything else you mentioned failed to happen. Splashing, overloaded boats, legs outside of rafts, screaming, water gun fights (provided by Pocono whitewater for a fee) were all common. There weren't enough guides on the river with our group of 35 rafts to communicate any information effectively. I was purposefully asking guides for information and could not get any. It sounds like PW has become lax in their own regulations and that things have changed drastically since you've been there. I am an experienced boater and have been on the water my whole life and I was genuinely scared that day because of the total lack of control. Rafts were going into dangerous rapids 5 wide and even backwards. Boats that were out of control were bumping into boats maintaining control sending them careening into rocks. In your expert opinion what is a manageable number of rafts per guide?
I am an experienced and avid kayaker. I was kayaking that day and saw the rescue taking place. The water was moving quite fast and being with my 2 kids, I did not stay to see what happened. My wife was biking at that time along the trail and stopped to console the mans mother who was on the side of the river when my wife road by. I did notice many of the rafts were over loaded with rafters, I counted 8 people in some rafts. It was obvious that many of the rafts had absolutely no control of how to steer their craft. Many were more interested in having water fights than paddling. During the day I saw several large groups of rafts from PW go by. Most were having a great time and unaware of what had happened, including myself. My thoughts on this very unfortunate freak accident are:
1. It was a fluke accident that his foot got stuck. The odds of getting your foot stuck between rocks is very very small. The odds would have been even less had this person after falling in ( the mother told my wife that the raft flipped over and everyone fell out), layed on his back with his feet up and pointing down stream. Other guest noted these instructions were given prior to the trip.
2. In reference to the # of guides to clients- of course the more guides the better, but the water moves very fast at 1700 CFS and it is very difficult if not impossible to rescue someone in the middle of the river when they are stuck and not moving and you are cruising by at the speed of the river. I do not think more guides would have saved this person. Look how long it took for the rescue team with ropes set across the river unpin him. Can you expect a guide to do the same in the fleeting moments he or she passes by the pinned person?
3. This is a class three river, not a class four. It is user friendly and yes even inexperienced paddlers can get down safely and enjoy a great day on the river. However I saw all the rafts bunch up on each other at times and had to vie for the best place on the river to go down. There are obvious places you do not want to be and because so many rafts are going down together, it becomes very difficult to control and put your raft where you want it to go. If there was more space between the rafts than each raft has a better opportunity to be in control and follow a better line down the river through the rapids. However doing this separated a large group and the guides would then have less control of the whole group. In addition, perhaps the shear # of rafts on the river at the same time makes people complacent and they lower their guard to the dangers of fast moving water.

4 It is my opinion that the only liability I see would be that according to accounts there were 9 people on this raft that was rated for up to six. If it is determined that overloading the raft was the cause of it to flip then perhaps there would be liability. On the other hand, rafts with even the correct loads flip and people fall out of rafts all the time. It is expected and a normal part of white water rafting. That is part of the fun and the challenge of white water.

This was an accident, a terrible fluke tragedy that happened and I do not think we should finger point and try to blame PW. We all need to be responsible for our actions. The river is not a ride a Six Flags Great Adventure. It is a wild river with real dangers and obstacles that needs to be respected. I would hope PW would analyse this accident so others could learn from it and then perhaps his death would not be in vane. I will always kayak this river with a new respect. Ranger Randy

The boat being overloaded, too few guides , too many out of control boats going through rapids at once. You are at once describing major and dangerous flaws in how they do business but also saying it’s a fluke and they have no liability. Doing everything right and still having an accident is different than doing most things wrong and having one. The result is the same but the cause is very different. I am an avid free diver and spearfishermen. Trust me when I say I am comfortable with risk Vs reward. PW is liable because they have an expectation of preparation and foresight as the professional guide. They failed their clients on many levels that’s day. I was baffled by how badly the operation was running. Before we even got into the water people almost got hurt. ( A PW worker was dragging boats aggressively down slippery rocks and in the process bumping the boat into the legs of people walking precariously on slippery rocks.) I said to my group that morning that the way they are doing things it’s amazing someone doesn’t get hurt every trip. I really don’t understand why people are making excuses for PW. Maybe they support the economy up there, maybe you’re afraid of increased regulations? All I can say is that allowing PW to keep doing what they did sept 1 would be a grave mistake. It makes the sport look unprofessional and it makes the river look more dangerous than it is. I don’t doubt that a raft, single file, with some semblance of control is a relatively safe place to be on the Lehigh. But an overloaded raft going through the same rapid with 6 other rafts full of people who can’t steer all of whom cannot even hear the one guide allotted to them is a very different place to be. That situation existed because of choices PW made and that is why they are liable.
Depending upon the size of the raft it is capable of holding 9 people to 10 people. I do not know how large the raft was. I no longer work PW but have rafted with them after, on lots of occasions. Every trip gets a full briefing and instructions. At every rapid the group is instructed on where and what to do. Every person is counted for up to the max. number allowed per trip. The number of guides are adjusted per group and number. Play is encouraged as long as it is safe. As a guide I would also have a water cannon for play. Every raft is given a bailing bucket for bailing and splashing. Every trip I have ever been on had some that got the instructions and did great, and some who did not. When things happen on the river and they do all the time it is sometimes difficult to communicate with the front of the group if you are in the back working with a situation. When it happens the group will stop, pull over and not move forward until the tail of the trip is in or instructed to continue.

I have a great example, one day a raft was pinned with 4 people on top of the rock. As I was working on the raft I gave clear instructions that this will happen fast and when I tell you I need you to get in the raft as fast as you can. Two got in and two just stood not getting into the raft. Once again I gave them clear instructions that you are going to get in the water and float down to the raft, I want you on you to float on your back with your feet down the river. As I got back into my kayak yep they were face first on there belly. They got thru it but were all banged up due to not listening. It really stinks when accidents happen when you do not listen. This happens all the time mainly for the reason lots of people have no clue to the true hazards, they choose to talk during briefings and instructions. I don't know all the facts about this accident but it will be investigated and the liability will be addressed. If some thing needs to change it will be.

Any and all moving water possess hazards. This unfortunate tragedy is nothing but an accident that has now affected so many.
I am an avid rock and ice climber and I too know risk and reward all to well. When I am climbing I am solely responsible for my own safety. If I get injured there is no one to blame but me. Unfortunately, when people hire a rafting company to take them down a river those clients often become complacent for their own safety. They think they are on a ride at an amusement park, and the guides will keep them safe. They don't realize the inherent dangers in the river. We will have to wait and see just where the liability sits. People have to assume risk even when going on a guided trip. While I agree that perhaps PW has to assume some of this liability ( overloaded rafts), the clients have to assume responsibility for themselves too. I am not sure what % each should take but I am of the belief that the liability rests more on the client than on the rafting company in this situation.

I am writing this not to argue with anyone but to talk through a very tragic experience that we who were there experienced. I truly hope this dialog is for the good and that we learn from it so the likelihood of this accident happening again become more remote. May the family of this man find comfort and healing.

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