BINGHAM — The death of a York man in a whitewater rafting accident Saturday on the Dead River has been ruled a drowning, the Maine Warden Service said Monday.

Richard Sanders, 67, died during a commercial trip guided by North Country Rivers. The company issued a statement saying that Sanders was ejected from the raft on the river in West Forks Plantation, 50 miles north of Skowhegan.

Jim Murton, the owner of Bingham-based North Country Rivers, said in a statement that Sanders might have suffered from a health issue before or during the accident.

But Cpl. John MacDonald, spokesman for the warden service, said Monday that he didn’t know of any health issues that Sanders had.

Contacted by phone Monday, Sanders’ wife, Peggy, would not comment on his health.

She said her husband was more of an indoors guy.

“He loved to woodwork,” Peggy Sanders said. “He went rafting with our son. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

Maine has had four fatal whitewater rafting accidents in the past decade, according to MacDonald:

 In May 2008 on a trip guided by New England Outdoors on the West Branch of the Penobscot River.

 In September 2008 on a trip by North Country Rivers on the Kennebec River.

 In May 2016 on a trip by North Country Rivers on the Dead River, in which a chaperone with four Boy Scouts died.

 And Saturday’s accident on the Dead River.

Two more whitewater rafting fatalities occurred on the Dead River between 1996 and 2006.

The total number of passengers taking commercial whitewater rafting trips in Maine has been estimated at 56,000 to 60,000 during the last two years, according to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Maine’s whitewater rafting season runs from May to mid-October primarily on the Kennebec, Penobscot and Dead rivers. The Dead River has 16 miles of whitewater, the longest stretch in Maine, and runs through sections of rapids that are considered very or extremely difficult because of obstacles, vertical drops and strong currents.

Murton said five rafts were running tightly together Saturday. All of the rafts were guided by registered Maine whitewater guides, and the trip conformed to all safety regulations mandated by law and rule. All rafters were outfitted with proper safety equipment – life jackets, helmets and full wet suits.

Sanders was in a raft carrying seven people, including the guide. Game wardens say all went into the water when the raft flipped on a remote portion of the river called Mile Long Rapid.

Some witnesses indicated that Sanders might have been submerged in the river for several minutes, according to the warden service. He was pulled from the water and lifesaving measures were taken by North Country Rivers employees and others. Those attempts were unsuccessful.

West Forks Fire and Rescue as well as the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department assisted at the scene.

Murton said Saturday was one of eight controlled release days each year from the Long Falls Dam, when the water volume released typically measures 5,000 cubic feet per second.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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