Portland woman drowns in Rogue

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

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 remained 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 said in a press release Monday.

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 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 another rock and threw Kathleen Mills and their dog into the water. Both were wearing life vests; the dog was able to swim to shore but she was trapped in the same place Vontungeln was a month earlier.

Forest Service officials and Curry County marine deputies responded Saturday, but couldn't recover her body. The 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.

Vontungeln's body was recovered eight days after her death when the current freed it from the rocks and washed it downstream, where two employees of the Bureau of Land Management found it.

Chris Dent, the BLM's river manager, said employees issuing river permits are advising people about the accident and asking rafters and boaters to keep an eye out for Mills' body.

Officials also are reminding river users of the danger of Blossom Bar.

"It's a class IV rapid," Dent said. "That's high risk and these things happen."

The Rogue is running high and fast this summer and three people have drowned in the same area since June 1.

Dent said that on Monday the river was running about 900 cubic feet per second more than the normal flows recorded in 30 years of data. Earlier this year in late May and early June, about twice the normal amount of water was rushing downstream after a wet winter with plenty of snow in the mountains.

The water was fast and frigid when Robert Blight, 42, of San Jose, Calif., drowned June 1 after the current swept away the raft he and a friend had left on the bank downstream from Blossom Bar near Paradise Lodge. 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.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

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