Kayakers search for Holly White in Taos Box

Laurie Celine
Posted 9/9/16

Two kayakers conducted a 10-hour search for Holly Alcott White through the Taos Box on Sept. 5. The search party came up empty-handed.

Aren Sven Rane and Paul von Huene were hired by Elaine Graves, a private investigator working for White’s …

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Kayakers search for Holly White in Taos Box

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Two kayakers conducted a 10-hour search for Holly Alcott White through the Taos Box on Sept. 5. The search party came up empty-handed.

Aren Sven Rane and Paul von Huene were hired by Elaine Graves, a private investigator working for White’s father, Ray Alcott. White, a Taos resident and former general manager of the Taos Center for the Arts, has been missing since May 6. Her car had been found at the Rio Grand Gorge Bridge parking lot – leading some to speculate that she had jumped, or been pushed off the bridge.

White’s belongings, including her dog, wallet with ID and credit cards and cell phone, were later found at her Taos home. The alarm on her phone, plugged in next to her bed, showed that it had gone off, according to reports to state police by one of her closest friends, Cynthia Arvidson. Arvidson had been scheduled to take a walk with White the morning she was reported missing.

Shoe clue?

Kayaker Rane’s mother, Judith Rane, was a friend of White’s and had worked with her at the Taos Center for the Arts. In May, she asked her son to search for White during a kayak trip that he had already planned.

He and three other friends, experienced white water kayakers and river guides, searched during a May 11 trip for about eight hours. While they did not find White’s body, they found a shoe that they think could have belonged to White.

Rane said he found the black and white Velcro ladies comfort shoe about one to two miles downstream of the Gorge Bridge floating in the tide of the river with sticks and debris in an eddy on the bank.

He gave the shoe to state police, who previously told The Taos News that it was a size nine “Sketcher” brand with a Velcro strap.

“[Holly’s father] and Elaine showed me the picture of Holly wearing the same shoes and the same color,” said Rane. “It wasn’t a river shoe, it was a ‘go-to-work’ shoe. There was no sun damage to the shoe. I have seen a lot of shoes, sun bleached shoes, exposed shoes.”

Holly White’s husband, Jeff White, has previously confirmed that his wife wore a size nine shoe — but he did not know if she owned a pair of shoes of the type that was found — until Arvidson showed him a different pair of the same brand and style, but of a different color in White’s closet.

“There were a lot of things about the shoe that made me curious about it,” Rane said. He said it was possible that the shoe could have come off of White’s foot if she were in the river.

“The river strips you of everything. It will take your watch off, it will take your pants off, it will take your socks off,” he said. At the same time, he thinks if someone did throw it over the edge of the bridge to use it as a decoy, that the found shoe was strong enough to stay intact. “Something that solid and compact… it wouldn’t have been damaged at all,” he said.

High river

A week after Whites’ disappearance, the Taos Box flow was running at about 1,500 cubic feet per second (CFS) — a generally high level. On Sept. 5, it was running at a dangerously low level of 212 CFS. “The Box was basically closed,” he said. “The river was full of rocks and sieves and tricky to get through.”

Depending on conditions, the Taos Box depth varies from mere inches to 20-feet deep. Local company Los Rios River Runners describe the Taos Box as “a remote chasm of rugged basalt cliffs plunging 800 feet down to the Rio Grande.” It’s length is about 14 miles.

“We knew we would have to walk around some of the rapids, which we did,” said Rane. “Power Line Falls is a total boulder sieve. It’s possible that she could be in one of those sieve’s, but not probable,” he said.

Because of the low flow, Rane said this would be a time when finding a body would be more likely. “You learn – as kayakers – where things get caught up, like where a rock goes under. We really explored those spots. We’re trained for that, we’ve been doing that for most of our lives,” Rane said. “We were in and out of our boats 25 to 30 times.”

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