Kayakers find possible human remains in Río Grande Gorge

Confirmation pending state investigation

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 7/23/18

Finding a body in the waters below the Río Grande Gorge Bridge was a possibility longtime river runners John Nettles and Patrick O’Brien always held in the back of their minds, but when …

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Kayakers find possible human remains in Río Grande Gorge

Confirmation pending state investigation

Posted

Finding a body in the waters below the Río Grande Gorge Bridge was a possibility John Nettles and Patrick O’Brien always held in the back of their minds whenever they went down the river, but when they came across what appeared to be human remains on a kayaking trip Sunday (July 22), the discovery was disturbing nonetheless.

“We were shocked and saddened,” Nettles said. “It’s a real workout paddling into the wind on low water. Usually, we have just a voracious appetite at lunch. We had trouble eating.”

Nettles contacted The Taos News early Monday afternoon to report they had discovered what appeared to be a human body – that of a man, Nettles believes – washing against some rocks about a mile and a half downriver from the gorge bridge, where numerous people jump to their deaths each year.

They had put in at the John Dunn Bridge around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Nettles said, setting out on a river that was mostly unoccupied due to extraordinarily low water levels.

After navigating the section of river that runs under the girders of the Río Grande Gorge Bridge, which spans 800 feet above the canyon floor, they entered a section known as Yellow Bank Rapid.

Boulders and smaller rocks were exposed, Nettles said, sucking water beneath them into places they couldn’t see. In a particularly rough rapid Nettles was thrown from the kayak, and the river started to pull him under.

“It was going completely under boulders, into the unknown,” he said. “You couldn’t see under it and you couldn’t see out the other side. I was getting sucked into that.”

Nettles used the boat to pull himself back to safety, but it occurred to him that one of the missing people associated with the Río Grande Gorge Bridge – Holly White, an office manager whose car was found at the bridge parking lot in the spring of 2016, and Albuquerque man Ignacio Perez Jr., whose truck was also found near the bridge May 16 – might have been sucked under in a similar place.

A mile further into the trip and Nettles said they began to catch “the death smell” in the air.

They suspected a dead animal. Further down, they noticed the current pinning something against some rocks. Nettles thought it first might be a bighorn sheep, but upon further inspection, could see clothing. Then he saw what appeared to be a human body.

When they debarked to take a closer look, they could see that the lower half of the possible remains were submerged underwater.

O’Brien took a GPS reading to estimate the coordinates of their location and Nettles placed a red baseball cap nearby, pinning it with a rock, to serve as a marker for investigators to find.

After re-entering cell phone range, they contacted New Mexico State Police to make a report. As of press time Monday afternoon (July 23), the agency had yet to release any information regarding the discovery or any plans to launch a recovery mission.

A public information request has been submitted with state police. Lieutenant Elizabeth Armijo, public information officer, is looking into the incident. Confirmation that the body is human or any positive identification, is pending an autopsy by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator.

Nettles said a friend who volunteers with Taos Search and Rescue had asked him to keep an eye out for a body if they went on the river over the weekend.

“I have been pretty well convinced that, at some point, we would find a body,” Nettles said.

This is a developing story.  For more, check back here at taosnews.com and pick up a copy of the July 26 edition of The Taos News.

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