Kayaker goes missing on Gila River; later found walking on Safford/Bryce Road

Contributed File Photo/Courtesy Bill Brandau: The Gila River

By Jon Johnson


PIMA – Panic set in with a local father Friday afternoon when his daughter went missing while kayaking on the Gila River between Thatcher and Pima. The girl was later found safe walking along Safford/Bryce Road. 

The event was a family outing that included the father and four of his children floating down the Gila River.

According to a Graham County Sheriff’s Office report, the father advised of having dropped off his two daughters at the Thatcher bridge so they could float down the Gila River to the Pima bridge. The father took a hard boat into the river with two of his other children as well, according to the family. However, one of his daughters had tipped her kayak and the father had to help her get out of the water. After doing so, he waited for his other daughter to come floating by and after not seeing her for more than 20 minutes called the Sheriff’s Office for help. According to the family, everyone was wearing lifejackets.

However, the other daughter had apparently exited the river further upstream and didn’t feel that she could safely navigate her way back in and down toward the bridge. The girl then pulled the kayak out and ran two miles to Safford/Bryce Road, where a motorist pulled over and she used a cell phone to contact her parents. According to the family, the girl had sought help because she didn’t know if her father had caught up to her sister who had overturned in her kayak. The girl’s mother then came to her location and brought her home. 

The deputy called off the Graham County Search & Rescue team and went to the girl’s home to interview her and make sure she didn’t require any medical attention. 

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Cochise County Sheriff’s Office SAR: Rescuers search the Gila River for the body of missing kayaker Dylan Archuleta in March 2019. His remains were later found Aug. 19, 2019.

Earlier this month, two young boys ages 10 and 12 had to be rescued from the San Francisco River in Greenlee County on March 15 after the inflatable raft they were in popped and the youths ended up trapped on the opposite side of the river from the adults that were with them. 

According to the Greenlee County Sheriff’s Office, the FMI Tactical Rescue, Greenlee EMS, and Greenlee County Search & Rescue managed to get the boys back across the river and on their way home after a roughly three-hour ordeal. 

The office reminds river travelers to always wear a personal floatation device when on the river. On March 3, the office also had a memorial service on the one-year anniversary of the drowning of Dylan Archuleta in the Gila River in Greenlee County when his kayak became trapped upside down in 2019. 

Rescuers located Archuleta pinned inside his kayak, but when they went to remove the kayak Archuleta slipped and floated downstream. Multiple agencies searched the river for a week for Archuleta to no avail. His remains were later found Aug. 19, 2019, roughly 10 miles downstream from where he was last seen. 

This article was updated at 7:20 p.m. to include more information from the family.

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