GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Glenwood Springs Middle School student Richard Irving Buchanan, 12, is feared to have drowned while tubing on the Colorado River about 4 p.m. Sunday.
Witnesses on the river Sunday reported seeing the youngster off his tube and struggling in the water near the South Canyon Bridge, and then seeing him sink below the surface, said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario.
Garfield County Search and Rescue teams spent four hours Sunday evening looking for the youth, combing the banks on both sides of the river and probing deep pools, and resumed the search again Monday.
Friends of Buchanan's family, frustrated that the search did not resume earlier on Monday, put together a group of volunteer searchers to comb the river on Monday afternoon.
Richard, an immigrant from Jamaica who would be in seventh grade this fall, was tubing with his stepfather, Tim Heiney, and his sister, Rischma Buchanan, 19. His mother, Sharline Heiney, said Richard did know how to swim. But he was not wearing a life jacket and had lost his flip-flops earlier in the trip, she said.
Tim Heiney, who has lived in the area since 1967, said he went to Target earlier Sunday and bought the inner tubes, and the three got in the river near Exit 116. They planned to float down to the I-70 rest area below Canyon Creek, Heiney said, where they had parked a car.
Heiney said he was worried about making it through the wave park at West Glenwood, which they floated through safely. “I thought that would be the worst part. I thought we were safe. We were having a lot of fun, wrestling around with our tubes and playing,” Heiney said.
But Rischma had some difficulty floating, Heiney said. She had scraped her knee and torn off a fingernail, and the two stopped above the South Canyon Bridge so Heiney could help her get more properly seated on her tube. Richard was already out ahead of them but still within sight.
“I didn't like him being that far without us. I could see him, and then I lost track of him,” Heiney said. “I don't think we were five minutes behind him.”
By the time Heiney reached the South Canyon Bridge, he saw Richard's tube floating in an eddy just below the bridge.
He and Rischma got out of the river, and Heiney climbed up to the bridge, thinking that Richard might be up there. But the youth wasn't there, and Heiney shouted down to Rischma to call 911. By that time, Garfield Dispatch had already received a call from other witnesses. Vallario said unless Richard's body is caught on something, it will likely surface within the next day or two.
"It's very unfortunate, and our hearts go out to the family,” he said. The family expressed frustration that the search did not resume early Tuesday.
Vallario said, “We are acting out of experience and objectivity and what we know about river recoveries. If he was on the bank or hurt, people would have seen or contacted him.”
The sheriff also issued a caution to those who want to cool off by tubing on rivers or lakes in the area.
“Even though the river looks quiet and low, it's very dangerous. If people get out on the water, they need to be wearing life jackets,” he said.