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Fire captain killed in rafting accident remembered for his life of adventure

<i>Salt Lake City Fire Department/KSL TV via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Officials said Harp was pinned under his raft Thursday after it flipped. He was with a group of about 20 friends rafting down the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado.
Salt Lake City Fire Department/KSL TV via CNN Newsource
Officials said Harp was pinned under his raft Thursday after it flipped. He was with a group of about 20 friends rafting down the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado.

By Shelby Lofton

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    SANDY (KSL TV) — Friends of Capt. Michael Harp recounted the deadly rafting accident the veteran firefighter did not survive.

Officials said Harp was pinned under his raft Thursday after it flipped. He was with a group of about 20 friends rafting down the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado.

“He’d maximized all of his time that he spent not working the fire fighting,” said Harp’s friend, Jace Pearce, who was on the Green River trip. “Any opportunity he had he was making the most of it, getting up skiing, doing rivers, going hiking, canyoneering.”

‘He was no stranger’

Pearce said the group planned on rafting down the river for five days and four nights, but it was cut short by tragedy.

“He was no stranger to this river and no stranger to many rivers around here,” Pearce said.

Pearce said the group shared 10 boats, with two people on board each large raft. He had gone on private permitted river running trips with Harp before.

Officials said the accident happened near Hells Half Mile, a section of class-three and class-four rapids on the Green River in the Canyon of Lodore.

“After we had gone through the rapid, we’re about a half mile down around a bend, we heard on the radio that Mike had flipped his boat,” Pearce said.

Pearce said it’s a risk that comes with the hobby, but what he saw shocked him.

“I saw that his boat was pinned between these two rocks sideways, and my first thought was, ‘how did that happen?,’ he said.

“I saw they were throwing stuff off the boat and I figured we’d go up there and help them out.”

Pearce said he didn’t see the accident, but other group members told him it happened so fast, there’s nothing Harp could’ve done to stop it.

“His partner, Irena, who was on the front of the boat had shot out and made it in between the rocks before the boat came down on top of him and pinned him underneath,” he said.

He said the group knew their friend was gone, but they did what they could to recover his body.

“One of our guys had climbed up on top of the rocks and tied off a water jug to his ankle, an empty water jug, because we knew that once the boat would have been freed, it might be hard to recover his body,” Pearce said.

‘We found him’

Around 8 a.m. Friday, rangers said Harp’s body was found 10 miles downstream.

“Had it not been for that blue water jug, he would have definitely been lost in that river,” Pearce said. “It provided a lot of closure knowing that we found him.”

Pearce said they spent about four hours trying to free Harp’s boat using pulleys and ropes.

“It was just tough to see that and deal with all that,” he said.

He said park rangers were incredibly helpful in getting the group off the water after the accident.

“They had organized for our vehicles to be shuttled from the original Split Mountain takeout to this other takeout called Echo Park,” Pearce said. “We only had about five miles to do to get to the takeout versus another 40. Upon arrival to that boat ramp they brought out a whole trauma support team with therapists.”

Pearce said since arriving home, the group, including’ Harp’s son, Austin who was with them, are processing their grief together.

“Austin and Ariel, both amazing people,” Pearce said. “They both loved to get outside. They’d gone all the adventures with him.”

Pearce said Harp’s daughter, Ariel was in China when the accident happened.

“Ariel’s in college, she had just barely gotten to China, like, last week,” he said.”She was going over there to study abroad for two months, but obviously, she’s on her way back home now to deal with this whole situation.”

A *GoFundMe account was set up to help Harp’s children.

A celebration of life

The group on the river rafting trip got together Sunday night to celebrate Harp’s life.

“We all agree that there’s no other way that Mike would have wanted to go out, having an adventure,” Pearce said. “And he was happy up until his last moment.”

Now, they’re seeing the father, veteran firefighter, hero and adventurer get the attention and praise, they said he deserves.

“I didn’t know he was a firefighter for the first little while that I met him, and learning that was quite surprising,” Pearce said. “But at the same time, it made a lot of sense. He definitely has that nature about him that really cares about people and he wants to lend a hand wherever he can.”

Pearce said he and his friends have reminded each other to ‘live like Mike.’

“Every chance he got, he would do something he enjoyed doing, so that would be my biggest takeaway from Mike is just, live to the fullest,” he said.

*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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