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Rafting Business Off After Accidents That Killed Dozen People

August 29, 1987

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ Business usually booms during the summer for British Columbia’s whitewater rafting companies, but interest has ebbed following the accidental deaths of five U.S. executives and seven other people.

Last-minute cancellations this year have some operators wondering whether they’ll be around next summer.

″It’s nothing short of a disaster,″ said Karen Randall, co-owner of North Vancouver-based Frontier River Adventures Ltd. ″We might as well let the air out of our boats, roll them up and put them away for the winter.″

The 12 deaths occurred in four separate accidents this year. One rafter died near Revelstoke in June, five died on the Elaho River near Squamish July 1 and five more on the Chilko River Aug. 1. Three days later, a West German on a private whitewater rafting trip also died on the Chilko.

The first five Chilko victims were U.S. advertising and marketing executives.

Ms. Randall said the company’s normal rafting season runs from May 1 to mid-October.

″We have no bookings and this should be our busiest time of year. August is usually going great guns,″ she said.

Sandra duBrule, manager of Vancouver-based Safari River expeditions, said her business is down two-thirds because of cancellations.

″We’re suffering; we’ve virtually come to a halt,″ she said. ″It’s a sad situation because the rivers we run - the Fraser and the Thompson - don’t have the same types of risks as the others.″

Ms. Randall, whose company operates whitewater tours in motorized boats on the Fraser and Thompson rivers, said customers don’t appreciate the difference between boats operated by paddles or oars and motorized boats.

″We’re trying to let people know that our boats are not like the boats involved in the accidents,″ she said. ″But people are scared to death. They think they’re going to get on the boats and are going to die.″

However, Vladimir Kulich, who runs Vancouver-based RAFT Inc., said that while his customers are more discerning, they are not backing out of expeditions.

″People are asking more questions,″ said Kulich. ″Since the accidents they want to know how experienced our guides are and if we have a back-up safety boat.

″But we’ve addressed both problems and we’re running trips every day,″ he said.

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