Drowning Spurs Warnings Along Priest River

PRIEST RIVER — A 65-year-old Bonner County man drowned Saturday when he fell out of his canoe on a fast-moving stretch of the Priest River.

The drowning happened in the McAbee Falls area of the river, about nine miles north of the city of Priest River.

On Sunday, the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office confirms the man’s name as Larry Fryberg.

He was canoeing with his wife, son and other people when the accident happened.

The sheriff’s office says he was last seen hanging on to the canoe after it flipped.  His body was later found by another group of rafters. Fryberg was wearing a lifejacket.

A sign has already gone up, warning rafters of the potentially dangerous rapids.

At the boat launch along the Priest River near McAbee Falls, things look relatively calm.  But it’s two miles downstream at Eight Mile Rapid where things get dangerous.

“We were thinking about going down it today but that changed my mind,” says Daniel DesJarlais.

DesJarlais and his cousin went to the river Sunday with intentions of floating the river, but a sign warning all who pass of yesterday’s drowning, coupled with a personal close call on the river, kept them on dry land.

“It’s moving way faster because of all the snow we got,” he said.

DesJarlais says his sister nearly drowned a few days ago in the river.

“Grabbed her out of the water and pulled her on shore” he says, “and she wasn’t even breathing at that point.”

It was the very same rapids that turned deadly yesterday. 

“She was going down Eight Mile Rapids and she wasn’t expecting some of the rapids they had,” says DesJarlais.

“I’ve seen ten people falling out of boats everywhere right on the rapids,” says Skip Cook.

Cook kayaks this stretch of the Priest River about 30 times every year.  He says people are getting thrown from their boats because they aren’t anticipating the obstacles created by the higher than normal water level.

“Normally, the Fourth of July, it’s a foot lower,” he says.  “They’re expecting what they got last year or the year before.”

Cook will continue to kayak this stretch of the river, as he says it’s safe for people who come prepared.  But both he and a sign posted near the river agree, that a canoe is no match for the Class III rapids downriver.