2 Moab men save family of 3 from Colorado River in 'miracle' rescue


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MOAB — A man who witnessed two men dramatically rescue a family that had fallen into the Colorado River last week said it felt like a "miracle" that everything played out as it did.

Eric Odenthal traveled to the Colorado River on Thursday to drop a paddleboard off to a friend on Thursday when the dire situation played out in front of him.

Grand County sheriff's search-and-rescue officials said a 40-year-old man and his two sons, a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old, were floating on the river on an inflatable kayak Thursday when it flipped in rapids near a beach close to Drinks Canyon Camping Area along state Route 128 northeast of Moab.

The agency wrote in a social media post on Sunday that all three had personal flotation devices, but the device had "flipped" the 10-year-old face-down into the water while the 8-year-old struggled to keep his head above water because of the size of his device. The man's device was in his lap when the boat flipped.

"I ended up seeing the kids floating downstream with one of the kids kind of facing down, struggling," Odenthal told KSL-TV on Monday.

He didn't have the right gear to jump into the fast-moving water, but his friend did. Gaar Lausman, a Moab resident and former search and rescue member, saw the incident and used his paddleboard to rescue the two children from the water.

But the father had traveled too far downstream by this point for Lausman to reach him, Odenthal said. The man was also struggling to stay afloat in the river's eddies.

That's also about when Daniel Wright, also of Moab, just happened to appear on his personal watercraft. Grand County search and rescue officials said Wright was jet skiing in the area and had inadvertently passed "within a few feet" of the fallen boater but didn't notice because the man was "almost completely submerged" and "virtually unnoticeable because of the substantial amount of high-water debris."

"It was literally a miracle. This guy showed up and started circling," Odenthal said.

Wright initially thought he had passed a log before Lausman caught his attention and informed him that a man had fallen in the water. So Wright circled back and around, reached into the water and pulled the man out.

"All I remember, just I had to help them. I had to get him," Wright said.

Odenthal captured a photo from the river banks showing the completely submerged boater's hand poking out of the water as Wright reached out to make the rescue. He was able to pull the man to the banks of the river where they embraced in what Wright called "an emotional moment."

Wright said the boys were shaking and scared and their father was all shaken up, but all three were uninjured. Search and rescue officials said all three declined medical attention. They also thanked Lausman and Wright for their quick thinking and action, which they say prevented a tragic outcome.

Grand County officials said the incident also serves as a reminder of why people should wear "adequate, properly fitted, and properly worn" personal flotation devices while recreating on the water.

Authorities say water safety is even more important this time of the year. The river — and many other rivers, creeks and streams across Utah — is flowing faster than usual because of the spring snowmelt period.

"While any stretch of the river can be dangerous at any water level, higher flows present even more danger," the agency wrote, adding that faster flows can result in more flips.

Meanwhile, many chimed in on the post to call Lausman and Wright "heroes" for their actions. But Wright chalks it up to being at the right place at the right time.

"God just had me right there at the right time," he said.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.
Lauren Steinbrecher
Lauren Steinbrecher is an Emmy award-winning reporter and multimedia journalist who joined KSL in December 2021.

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