Blossom Bar claims another life

A Portland woman drowned in the Rogue River this weekend when she and her dog bounced out of their raft in the treacherous Picket Fence area of the Blossom Bar rapid.

Kathleen M. Mills, 57, of Portland, died Saturday morning in the same place a California woman drowned about a month ago. And, as in the drowning of Cynthia Vontungeln on June 27, Mills' body remains trapped in the water. Vontungeln's body wasn't recovered for more than a week.

A 9-1-1 call from Singing Springs Lodge at about 11:40 a.m. Saturday reported a boating accident in which a woman was lodged in a rock crevice, the Curry County Sheriff's Department reported.

Four rafts were traveling together down the Rogue River when one, carrying Mills, her husband Brent Mills, 59, and their dog, took the same line through the class IV rapids that Vontungeln's kayak took on its fateful journey, the sheriff's department report said.

The Millses' raft went over a rock just below the area known as the Picket Fence rocks at Blossom Bar's upper end. It bounced off a rock and threw Kathleen Mills and their dog into the water. Although both Mills and her dog were wearing life vests, the dog was able to swim to shore but she was trapped in the same place as Vontungeln was a month earlier.

Forest Service officials and Curry County marine deputies responded Saturday, but couldn't recover her body. Curry County Sheriff's Department and Coos County Sheriff's Department marine deputies certified to work in swift water returned Sunday to retrieve the body, but couldn't find it. Officials are uncertain whether it has been pushed below the surface and is still trapped or has broken free and drifted downstream.

Authorities have asked rafters and boaters to look out for the body. Vontungeln's body was recovered a week after her death when the current freed it from the rocks and washed it downstream.

Officials also remind river users of the danger of Blossom Bar. The Rogue is running high and fast this summer and three people have drowned in the same area since June 1.

A California man, Robert Blight, 42, drowned June 1 after the current swept away the raft he and a friend had left on the bank downstream from Blossom Bar. They tried to swim across the river to a trail they thought they could hike out on, but Blight, whose life vest was lost with the raft, was caught in the cold, rushing current and drifted away.

— Anita Burke

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