Incident:Two Dead, 11 Rescued in Buckskin Gulch 2023/03/12

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Incident:Two Dead, 11 Rescued in Buckskin Gulch 2023/03/12
Date 2023/03/12
Location Buckskin Gulch
Severity Fatality
Canyoneering-related Yes
SAR involvement Yes
Navigation problem No
Environmental problem Yes
Communication problem No
Planning problem Yes
Skills problem No
Body movement problem No
Rigging problem No
Rappel problem No
Insufficient gear No
Gear failure No


BIG WATER, Kane County — Officials have identified two men who died and one who was rescued after flooding at Buckskin Gulch, in Kane County, earlier this week.

The lone survivor was identified as Ed Smith, who remained in a hospital recovering as of Thursday. The two hikers who died were identified as Bill Romaniello and Jeff Watson, the Kane County Sheriff's Office said.

All three men were visiting from the Tampa Bay, Florida area and were described as in their 50s. Authorities said they were on a hiking trip in the slot canyons when their family members reported them overdue.

Wednesday afternoon, the body believed to belong to the third missing man was found in Arizona, about 5 miles past the Utah state line, along the Paria River which runs just south of Buckskin Gulch. Kane County Sheriff's Lt. Alan Alldredge said investigators won't be able to positively identify the man until an autopsy is performed. But based on the physical characteristics, search crews believe it is the man they have been looking for.

Because the body was recovered in Arizona, Kane County search crews transported the man to the Coconino County Medical Examiner's Office for positive identification to be made.

The recovery marked the end of an extensive search that started Monday. The three men were reported missing by their families on Monday morning after they failed to check in following a weekend hiking excursion through Buckskin Gulch.

Alldredge said the men had entered the slot canyon on Friday and planned to finish Sunday night at Lees Ferry, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

According to the lone survivor, the men camped in the gulch on Friday and woke up Saturday to rapidly rising water.

At some point during the day, "they were hit by an actual flash flood," Alldredge said.

The three men were swept downstream. Two of them were eventually able to get out of the water and reunite. But they could not find the third person in their party. That man was later found deceased and his body recovered.

At some point, the remaining two men split up, Alldredge said. One man was injured and could not go any further, he said. His partner said he would try to find help and return.

A helicopter from the Utah Department of Public Safety spotted Smith, the lone survivor, Tuesday and pulled him out of the canyon. He gave search crews the approximate location of where he left his injured friend, Alldredge said. But when crews went to that area, he wasn't there.

That man, whose body was recovered Wednesday, was found approximately 6 to 10 miles from where he was last seen, according to the lieutenant. Searchers were unsure Wednesday how the man ended up where he did, noting that there had not been any reports of a second flash flood, although the water was flowing higher than normal through the canyon, Alldredge said.

As crews were searching for the three missing Florida men, they came across other hikers who were also stranded. In total, the Department of Public Safety helicopter extracted 11 people from three groups since Monday.