Bend Paralympian survives, father dies in canoeing accident

Pair were swept over rapids at Dillon Falls

Victim of fatal canoeing accident identified

BEND, Ore. - (Update: Comments from area hiker, sheriff's lieutenant)

A blind Paralympian from Bend and her father, visiting from Wyoming, took a canoe trip on the Deschutes River above Dillon Falls that turned tragic Thursday afternoon when the canoe overturned and both were swept over the rapids, killing the man and injuring his daughter, Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies said.

Lt. Bryan Husband on Friday morning identified the two people involved as Nancy Stevens, 57, of Bend and her father, Ronald Stevens, 84, of Jackson, Wyoming.

Husband said they had put their borrowed canoe into the river at Dillon Falls, intending to paddle upstream.

But they lost control of the canoe and it overturned, knocking the pair, who were wearing life jackets,into the water. The two were unable to swim to shore, Husband said, and were swept over the falls. a steep and violent Class 5 rapids.

County 911 dispatchers first got word of the accident around 3:15 p.m. from someone fly-fishing near the Dillon Falls day use area, who saw two people in a canoe get swept downstream, toward the falls.

The area above the falls has warning signs for boaters, since the falls only come into view around a bend in the river after a wide, placid stretch of water.

Some visitors to the area said haven’t seen those warning signs.

"I don't know if I've ever seen any danger signs coming up to this waterfall, but since we're familiar with the area we can, you know, hear it,“ hiker Audrey More said.

A total of 15 Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue volunteers, four deputies, Bend Fire Department personnel and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers responded to the area of Dillon Falls and Aspen Camp, with the first arriving in less than 15 minutes after the initial call.

Other onlookers who were on the river trail said they saw the two people floating downstream from the falls and directed nearby kayakers to the location, Husband said. They were the first to reach the unconscious man, bringing him to the embankment by the river trail. 

Hikers on the trail immediately began CPR efforts, while the kayakers paddled across the river to the woman’s location and helped her back to the trail with the others.

Around 3:45 p.m., Bend Fire medics and deputies reached the people on shore by the trail and took over CPR efforts on Ronald Stevens.

SAR volunteers used an inflatable boat and motor to travel upstream from Aspen Camp to the spot where rescue efforts were underway. They took Nancy Stevens, who had non-life-threatening injuries, back to Aspen Camp in their boat, where other Bend Fire medics took over her care, then brought her by ambulance to St. Charles Bend.

Resuscitation efforts on Ronald Stevens ultimately were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead, Husband said. 

A house supervisor at St. Charles Bend said Nancy Stevens was in good condition Friday morning.

A medical error when she was born caused Stevens to lose her sight. She competed 20 years ago as a cross-country skier in the Nagano, Japan Paralympic Games and is currently a board member and part-time instructor with Oregon Adaptive Sports, as well as a regular Pole Pedal Paddle competitor.

Stevens, outreach coordinator for OAS, also was the first blind woman to summit the Grant Teton, and coordinates the organization's programs for people with visual impairments, as well as outreach to the community.

"I was very lucky. My family was super-supportive of me participating in any outdoor activity," Stevens said last year in an interview for KTVZ's Olympic Zone program. "I grew up cycling, skiing, hiking, canoeing, swimming -- whatever,  (it was) outdoors, I enjoyed it."

Husband on Friday emphasized the importance of being prepared in case of an emergency, whenever you’re out on the river.

"The river water bodies are always deceptively quick,” he said. “They're always moving faster than what you think. Even the peaceful areas that look like they're gentle, underneath there's a lot of power going on in that water. It's taken for granted quite a bit."

The sheriff’s office has responded to eight water-related rescues or searches this year. Last year, they responded to a total of 15.

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