Thoughts on the death of my friend Charly
It is difficult to face writing on a subject as complicated as the death of a great friend; objectives, thoughts, and facts are mixed with emotions and memories of the good times lived together. Carlos Jurin, “Charly” for everyone, was a good person, everyone who ever met him for sure took an impression of this guy. An intense aura, when he wanted to tell you something he approached almost as if to grab all your attention and tell you a secret, and between small pats on your back and arms tells the history as trying to make you live the experience in your own flesh. He had a very definite vision of the world and how he saw things and didn’t let anyone convince him otherwise; his answers were yes or no, and his world was black or white.
I remember seeing his first time on the commercial run of the Mendoza River; he arrived with Federico in his small van, Florin where their playboats barely fit to enjoy a weekend run. Over time he got deeper and deeper into the river, and eventually started working as a rafting guide; but never left his profession of saddler which he exercised with great skill. It has been something more than five months since we suffered his lost on the beautiful Diamante River, in the south of the province of Mendoza. This is one of the greatest rivers in the province and one of the most difficult, Charly had run its waters a few years ago with only minor problems, always harmless incidents, getting out of them easily and managing to enjoy the company of his friends and his favorite sport.
This time Charly was not meant to come. He had responsibilities to attend to but a little last-minute adjustments gave him the opportunity to get rid of them and join the trip. We had planned it with the idea of bringing our friend Alberto to get to know the River. Alberto is an athlete of marathons and adventure races who has been training for three years in the waters of the Mendoza River, always with the idea and goal of getting to know the Diamante River he had heard so much about; Charly of course wanted to accompany his friend in this new adventure.
Our team is Charly, Alberto, Facundo, and me starting from Mendoza; and in San Rafael, we met Silvio Gallo one of the whitewater legends of south the province. On the way to the put in, and without previous communications, we found another group: Silvio Gurrieri, Tomi, Gonzalo, and Felipe, a friend from Ecuador who was visiting the province at that time.
It is difficult to explain the series of events that had the fatal outcome which ended with the life of our friend, but I´ll try to make an effort to describe the events in order to give an overview of the situation with the idea that this will serve as knowledge to learn from, what I think were, a number of accidents and inevitable mistakes that we could not solve in the actions of the facts. The run from its beginning had no major inconveniences except for a swim by Alberto in the first rapid that we solve without too much trouble. After that all boats ran the river smoothly until the rapid known as La Picasa where Charly failed to control his kayak, and ended up falling into a recirculating hole which made him swim.
It was not until days after the accident that I realized that this first swim had a great effect on Charly’s confidence. Since that incident his abilities, and the possibilities of self rescue, were severely diminished. Although we had resolved this first incident quickly, it had decreased Charly´s spirit – self-confidence is a very important factor. During the incident, his behavior had become erratic, he was unable to respond effectively to the rescue maneuvers we did, to the point where we had to recover his boat downstream. With the help of Silvio we made Charly grab the back of my boat and bring him down the river to the area where his boat was; as we moved downriver I asked Charly to climb onto the back of my boat with his chest on my stern to lighten the drag force that his body generated. He seemed not to understand. When Facundo threw him a rope from shore, he never managed to take the backward facing position towards the person that was pulling him in. I could see he was overwhelmed by the situation, although, I repeat, didn’t notice these details until days after the incident.
After La Picasa our next challenge was the rapid known as El Largo, the most difficult and technical because of its length and the many obstacles presented. Just before the drop, there is an eddy (place to stop on the shore) on the right of the river, from where you can see the first moves.
While we all managed to get into the eddy, Alberto flipped and swam from his kayak right in the eddy but when he grabbed his boat, it drug him into the stream of the rapid. Seeing this situation without thinking, Silvio Gurrieri came to the rescue; then Facundo, me, Tomi and Gonzalo also left the eddy to chase down leaving Silvio Gallo, Phillipo, and Charly in the eddy.
From this point everything becomes a bit chaotic. Silvio managed to reach the left bank of the river once the rapid ends with Alberto who was holding on to the stern of his boat. In the last waves of the rapid Facundo flips and I guess he was very tired because he couldn’t try a roll and swam immediately. This added a new swimmer and a new kayak in the water to our situation. On his own, Facundo managed to reach the shore where Silvio and Alberto were. Me, Tomi, and Gonzalo continued down the river chasing now 2 boats. About 2.5 km downstream Gonzalo and I finally manage to get Facundo’s boat. I stayed to empty the boat while Gonzalo and Tomi continued in pursuit of Alberto’s boat. At this point our group was divided into four: Charly, Silvio Gallo, and Felipe in the eddy right above the rapid; Silvio Gurrieri, Alberto, and Facundo a few meters after the rapid on river left; me about 2.5 km downstream on the river right; and Gonzalo and Tomas about 3 km downstream from my position.
Silvio Gallo tells me that while he was out of his boat on the shore he saw Charly floating out of the eddy toward the rapid; he yelled with as much insistence as he could for Charly to stay in the eddy but apparently Charly was shocked and did not hear his warnings. Silvio shouted for him to at least straighten the boat into the rapid and he did; but entering the rapid Silvio saw that Charly flipped and swam, and because he was out and away from his boat, he was not able to help. Unfortunately Felipe, who was in his boat in the eddy, did not know the river and this was the biggest rapid of the river.
Silvio Gurrieri was already on shore and out of his boat giving help to Alberto and Facundo, who had swum before, when he saw Charly swimming the rapid. Very quickly he pulled his rescue rope and threw it hitting the target. Charly took the rope and Silvio began to pull it to bring him to shore but he saw that Charly had a lost look on his face and did not take the rope with sufficient strength; he began to slide slowly until finally he let go the rope and continued downriver .... this would be the last time anyone saw Charly alive ...
I was out of my kayak emptying Facundo’s boat that we had brought to shore. I'm not sure of the time between getting the boat to shore and the moment I saw Charly´s boat; it must have been something like 5 or 10 minutes. When I looked up I saw Charly’s boat, his paddle, and what I thought was a piece of foam (it goes inside the kayak used for adjustments) upstream floating about 15 meters from my position. Just when the boat was floating in front of me, I noticed that what I thought was a foam, actually was Charly who was already unconscious. I thought he was going to sink again and my boat was too far to run up to it and get back in time to give chase so with out thinking too much, I jumped into the river and swam to him ... I gripped him hard from the shoulder of his PFD and started swimming with all my strength to the river bank. Every time we were near the shore the boils took us and plunged us to put us back in the middle of the river again, and again .... At times I lacked the strength and all I could do was to hang on to Charly's body to not loose him. I yelled at him and asked him please to wake up and help me; that by myself I couldn’t take us to the bank ... We must have floated together about 3 km to the entrance of the rapid known as “el dedo" which is the last rapid of the run before the river calms down and arrives at the lake "Los Reyunos.” Tomi and Gonzalo where right at the entrance, they had failed to rescue Alberto’s boat, and with very good judgment, had stopped before this rapid. Seeing them lit a spark of hope in me to see if at least we could managed to reach the shore with their help. I took my whistle and repeatedly and frantically blew it to get their attention; after a few seconds they saw us. It is worth noting that nerves invaded the two when they realized that the situation was the worst possible. Gonzalo who was still in his kayak passed the rope to Tomi who threw it but unfortunately the shot did not reach the destination; I could see the rope close and tried to get to it but my efforts were in vain .... The current continued to drag us into the rapid and about 5 meters before reaching it I let go of Charly ... I tried to reach the shore without success and was carried by the current to "el dedo" .... My body crashed into Charly’s body as we were swept away by this immense force that I could not control, I felt the air escaping from my body and knew there was no way to reach the surface. In seconds I thought a thousand things but for some reason I knew I was going to make it out. I also thought about Charly and how difficult things would be from this point forward … When I surfaced after the rapid I saw Charly about 6 or 7 meters away from my position but I no longer had strength and I made the decision to swim to shore .... Gonza was the first to appear not long after I reached the shore, just seconds, I screamed loudly to continue to reach Charly, that it was all him or nobody else, only seconds later I repeated the same scenario with Tomi and from that moment I stayed alone in the river ....
Gonzalo tells me that when he reached Charly he was no longer wearing his PFD, apparently between all the struggle I made to try to take him to shore it got loose and then the water did its thing. For a long time he struggled to try to keep him afloat among the boilers of the section but at times lost sight of him. It was not until Silvio and Felipe came that the three together were able to bring the body to shore. They immediately began the resuscitation maneuvers that they ended up performing for a long period of time without any response .... Charly unfortunately was gone.
The rest of the story does not have great importance, police statements, calls, and countless messages once the news broke. All trying to explain the incomprehensible, trying to find answers to thousands of useless questions since the events can never change.
Guesses can be thousands. What would have happened if Charly could not change his schedule? What would have happened if Charly would have waited in that eddy and had run with other two kayakers as the original plan was? What would have happened if Facundo had not swum and I had been waiting just down the rapid in my kayak where Silvio threw the rope? What would have happened if Charly had not let go of the rope? What would have happened, if before entering the river, I had put aside friendship and would have told Charly that I thought he was not in the best physical condition to confront those rapids? What would, what would, what would .......
I only know that Carlos "Charly" Jurin was a great guy, he decided to go paddling with friends to enjoy the sport he loved, that in his head (like in mine) never entered the possibility that him or any of the ones that where there would lose their lives that day… To have done what we do with that thought would be disrespectful to our families and loved ones who are waiting for us back at home safely. It's been difficult months since the departure of my friend and feel inside that I've changed a lot since the incident, probably a small part of me went with you Charly. I'll miss you all my life brother, good lines on the rapids of heaven; someday we will meet again.