Updated May 13 at 3 a.m.
Three local raft guides rescued two stranded kayakers from the banks of the Río Grande Gorge early Saturday morning (May 13) after an hourslong rescue mission that was initiated Friday afternoon (May 12).
The volunteer crew with Big River Raft Trips boarded an airboat and droned off into the darkness of the river around 12:45 a.m., and within 10 minutes, returned with David Domingos, 46, and Marwan Saidi, 30, who stepped onto the shore to meet with a medical team that had been waiting on standby for several hours.
The rescued men said they were chilled and in some degree of shock, but were otherwise unharmed during the ordeal.
The two Albuquerque law school students had come to Taos for a weekday trip down what they had understood to be an "intermediate" section of the Río Grande. But around 4 p.m., their inflatable kayak capsized on rough waters in an area otherwise known for relatively calm currents, but which has been unusually turbulent due to recent rainfall and snowmelt. After making an unsuccessful attempt to hike out of the area, the men became stranded on opposite banks of the river, where they waited – their clothing soaked through and without emergency provisions – for nine hours.
The effort to reach the kayakers as night fell and temperatures dropped to below 50 degrees became a complex mission involving the Taos County Sheriff's Office, emergency medical staff, a high-angle specialty team from Los Alamos and help from several fire departments.
The initial search began around 6 p.m. on Friday after a paddle and an unmanned kayak were spotted floating past the John Dunn Bridge.
"The critical component here is not waiting," Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe was overheard saying to his deputies via police channels. "[They] are cold and could become hypothermic."
Initially, rescue personnel thought they would have to attempt a "high-angle rescue," using ropes and pulleys to reach the kayakers down in the steep, rocky gorge.
At one point late in the night, law enforcement officials also requested a Black Hawk helicopter in case rescue by other means proved unsuccessful, but this and other precautionary efforts were called off as a water approach was expected to be the most successful – and safest – means of rescuing the two men.
Among the three options called on for the rescue, a custom airboat, piloted by longtime river guide Billy Miller and his two companions, arrived first.
After a brief period preparing the vessel for launch, suiting up in safety gear and securing medical supplies, the team of local raft guides managed to bring the two men back to safety without incident.
"These guys are all heroes," said Sheriff Hogrefe as the team pulled back into shore with the patients safely aboard.
The successful rescue came as a relief to all involved, particularly in light of the death of a 67-year-old Tijeras man, who drowned on Thursday (May 11) after falling from a raft in the Río Grande.
Check back at taosnews.com for updates on this story.