Three Germans die in French rafting accident

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The three were among an adventure sports holiday where violent storms caused a flash flood in the Baou canyon.

13 June 2008

LA PALUD SUR VERDON - Three Germans were killed in a rafting accident in southeastern France as violent storms caused a flash flood in a canyon, gendarmes said on Thursday.

The victims - two women and a rafting guide, aged between 20 and 40 - were in France on an adventure sports holiday, advertised as a "Never Come Back Journey" through a travel agency at Schwerte near Dortmund.

Ten holidaymakers and two guides, 11 Germans and one Swiss national, were rafting down the Baou canyon, a popular spot for beginners, on Wednesday when the gorge was swamped by a wall of water two to three metres high within seconds, laden with tree branches and debris, gendarmes said.

Caught by the flood, they were unable to sound the alarm until hours later when one of them managed to struggle out of the water.

Emergency services, using a helicopter, recovered the bodies of the women and their 40-year-old guide at the foot of a waterfall just before nightfall.

Five survivors who were rescued from a nearby farm were said to be in a state of shock and one young woman was hospitalised suffering from hypothermia. A couple in their 50s were rescued by helicopter from an area where access was otherwise impossible.

None of the group spoke French and an interpreter was needed to help in the investigation.

Local authorities had banned white water sports on the upper stretch of the Verdon River due to stormy weather conditions, but it remained authorised in the Baou canyon.

"It was extremely careless not to have enquired about the weather before they left as there was a thunderstorm alert and storms could have struck anywhere," an official said. "This is not an ordinary sport, there are rules to respect."

A local guide who cancelled a tour on Wednesday said that the Baou canyon had been carrying a lot of water these past days.

It was not clear late Thursday whether the German travel agency would be able to repatriate the survivors immediately, or whether they would have to spend the night at La Palud, a source close to investigators said.

[AFP / Expatica]

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