Pennsylvania woman dies after rollover during guided Alaska rafting trip

a braided river in the woods
The Klutina River, pictured here in June of 2007, flows into the Copper River near Copper Center, Alaska. (Creative Commons photo by Ryne Radigan)

A Pennsylvania woman died on Sunday after her guided river raft rolled over on the Klutina River near Copper Center. 

According to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch, 65-year-old Deborah Ann Burke of Harrisburg was aboard a river raft with a guide and two other passengers. 

According to the guiding company, a landslide occurred as they were rafting that put debris in the river. The river current pinned the raft against the debris and rolled it over. 

Other rafts in the guided group recovered the guide, Burke and one other passenger, troopers said. Good Samaritans in a river jet boat rescued the fourth person down river, and brought him to first responders waiting at a boat launch near the Richardson Highway bridge over the Klutina River, troopers spokesperson Tim DeSpain said in an email. 

Burke died as a result of injuries, troopers said. First responders could not save her. 

One other passenger and the guide were taken to the Gulkana Airport and then medevaced to Anchorage with serious injuries. 

Copper River Guides led the trip, which hit the water at about 4:30 p.m., DeSpain said. Troopers were notified about the incident at about 6:25 p.m. 

“We’re obviously devastated by the landslide and the resulting loss of life,” the company said in an email. “Our priority right now is to support the Burke family, our injured guide, and the wellbeing of our other guests and guides.” 

The company thanked the first responders and bystanders who helped.

Copper Center is about 200 road miles east of Anchorage, where the Klutina River meets the Copper River. Companies marketing rafting trips say the Klutina River has Class III rapids, but vary in their descriptions of what to expect. Princess Lodges describes it as “fun and splashy.” Salmon Grove Campground & Fishing Charters describes it as “a very fast river flowing up to 14 mph” that only experienced boaters should run. 

A National Weather Service stream gauge shows the river levels at Copper Center rising through June and, so far, leveling off this month. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information from the guiding company.

a portrait of a man outside

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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