A night on the Colorado River turned tragic when two boats crashed and sank, casting 16 passengers into the rushing water. Four people — three women and one man — were still missing, officials said.
The collision occurred about 8 p.m. Saturday between Pirates Cove and the Topock Marina near Moabi Regional Park on the California-Arizona border, authorities said. Search-and-rescue divers were in the water searching for bodies.
“I don’t want to give the interpretation that there isn’t a real possibility that they made it to shore,” Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster said at an afternoon news briefing. “We are actively treating this as a potential drowning.”
The river was packed with holiday visitors at the time of the incident. Those aboard the boats were friends and family, some visiting from outside the area. None of them were wearing life jackets, officials said.
“It is not mandated that they do, though we encourage it,” Schuster said.
It was not clear yet whether alcohol or speeding played a role in the crash, authorities said. The accident occurred just after sunset and low light conditions probably played a role.
The Hallett boat carrying 10 people was headed northbound when it collided head-on with a southbound Sleekcraft boat carrying six people, authorities said. Four passengers from the Hallett boat were missing.
Two people in critical condition were flown to a hospital in Las Vegas, authorities said. Nine others were taken to hospitals by ambulance.
Authorities said no children were on board.
“The two boats hit head on at about 50 mph,” knocking more than a dozen people into the water, according to an emergency dispatcher whose report was broadcast on local TV stations. Both boats sank and several people were pulled from the water by passing boaters.
Eric Sherwin, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire District, told 3TV/CBS-5 that the river moves fast and can reach depths of up to 30 feet.
"We had victims of this collision that were located three to five miles downstream from the original point of impact," Sherwin said.
Saturday night, helicopters from Care Flight, the Arizona Department of Public Safety Air Rescue and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department were deployed to the river. The search was called off about 10 p.m. before resuming again early Sunday.
Schuster said officials would keep searching the water each day until dark.
“We will continue to search until all those who are missing and unaccounted for have been located,” he said.
A stretch of the river may be closed intermittently during the recovery effort.