Tijeras rafter drowns in Rio Grande Gorge

Rio-Grande (Taos News file photo)

A Tijeras man died after he fell off a raft in the Rio Grande Gorge near Pilar Thursday afternoon and was pulled underwater by the current, according to Taos County emergency personnel.

The man, Daniel Willard, 67, was pulled from the river by rescuers about one-fourth of a mile from where he went under the water, said Joaquin Gonzales, director of Taos County Emergency Medical Services and Sgt. Jason Rael of the Taos County’s Sheriff’s Office. The man was unconscious and not breathing.

A New Mexico State Police officer, a Taos County Sheriff’s Deputy, and an off-duty nurse were administering CPR to the man when paramedics arrived on the scene, Gonzales said. Paramedics with Taos County, the Dixon Fire Department and the Española EMS also assisted along with paramedics flown in on a Care Flight Air Ambulance helicopter sent to transport the man to a hospital.

Paramedics worked unsuccessfully for more than an hour and a half to revive the man near the river. “But our efforts were unsuccessful and he was later pronounced dead on scene by the Office of the Medical Investigator,” Gonzales said via email Thursday evening.

Willard, an experienced kayaker and rafter, was rafting with friends when the accident occurred, according to Rael.

Fed by recent storms and melting snow, the Rio Grande was roaring through the Gorge at more than 3,000 cubic feet per second Thursday and is rated at a Class 3, according to Rael.