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Woman missing, presumed drowned after accident on Wind River

Tuesday, April 29, 2003
By JOHN BRANTON, Columbian staff writer

STEVENSON - A Portland woman was missing and presumed drowned after being thrown from a raft Sunday afternoon during a whitewater trip down the Wind River in Skamania County.

    Lauren Orton, 32, was one of four people in the raft when it struck a rock and tossed her and another woman out, said Skamania County Sheriff Dave Brown.

    The other woman swam to shore, but Orton was carried over a 6-foot waterfall near the High Bridge, about two miles north of Carson, east of Stevenson.

    Orton's life vest and helmet floated to the surface nearby, but there was no sign of her.

    The life jacket may not have been zipped up properly, or may have been too large for her, Brown said, adding: "It's also possible the force of the water took them off. It's moving very quickly there."

    About a dozen volunteers from the Skamania County Dive Team and Wind River Search and Rescue, called to the scene about 3 p.m. Sunday, searched Sunday and Monday, hiking into the area carrying scuba equipment.

    As of Monday evening, Orton's body had not been recovered, a dispatcher said.

    Brown said Orton was one of three clients taking a ride down the popular whitewater destination river with guide Dave Slover of Mosier, Ore., west of The Dalles. He said they put the raft into the river at Stabler, about eight miles north of Carson, and made it five or six miles before the accident.

    Orton was thrown from the raft about 1:30 p.m. The others searched for her before continuing downriver to find a phone and notify rescuers. Slover and a third client weren't believed thrown out.

    On Monday, Brown said he suspects that Orton's body was caught underwater just below the waterfall where she was last seen.

    "That water is so turbulent that we cannot get the divers in to where we need them to be," Brown said.

    He said searchers looked downriver about two miles, aided by a TV news helicopter, and found nothing.

    Officials on Monday were planning to contact the Thurston County and Pierce County sheriff's offices, which have sophisticated rope systems that can suspend a small rubber raft over the surging water.

    A person in the raft then would use long probes to locate and dislodge the body underwater.

    "I'm being told it takes about five hours just to set up the rope system," Brown said.

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Copyright 2003 by The Columbian Publishing Co. P.O. Box 180, Vancouver, WA 98666. No part of this publication may be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or reproduced in any way, including but not limited to photocopy, photograph, magnetic or other record, without the prior agreement and written permission of the publisher.


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