COSTA RICA (CBSMiami/CBS) — Four tourists from Miami and a Costa Rican river raft guide were killed in a weekend rafting accident in the Central American country, authorities said on Sunday.
Three rafts flipped on the Naranjo River on Saturday and the five victims were carried away downstream, according to the Judicial Investigation Organism.
Other passengers managed to cling to the rafts and some were rescued by another guide in a kayak.
The Organism identified those who died as Ernesto Sierra, Jorge Caso, Sergio Lorenzo and Andres Denis.
They were on a bachelor party according to a GoFundMe page set up to help cover funeral expenses. On that page, it describes how it was supposed to be a “weekend to remember for 14 friends which turned into a living nightmare.”
The local guide was Kevin Thompson Reid.
In addition to the 14 friends aboard the rafts, there were five guides.
It took rescue workers at least five hours to locate all of the victims.
Parts of Central America, including Costa Rica, have been battered by heavy rain and flooding over the past month, which has killed more than a dozen people.
“Should we have gone out that day? No we shouldn’t have,” said tourist Jeff Spiegelhauer.
Spiegelhauer says he and his girlfriend went rafting on Costa Rica’s Naranjo River in September. He says all three rafts in his group overturned within 15 minutes, tossing him and others into the rapids.
“If I’d been knocked out, it probably would have been all over for me. But fortunately the bruises I got were basically my lower body,” he said.
Friends of the four victims released a statement on Monday:
“Throughout the dangerous ride down the river, all of us struggled to stay above water, swallowing lots of it on the way down as our bodies ricocheted against the rocks in the water while struggling to survive. Most of us were ultimately able to grab hold of rocks or barriers in or around the water and await the rescue teams to get to us. Unfortunately, not all of us were so lucky. Four of our dear friends drowned in those waters. Luis, the man we hoped to celebrate all weekend, lost a brother and we all lost four great friends during this vacation which went horribly wrong.”
Whitewater rafting is one of Costa Rica’s most popular attractions. The country draws more than two million visitors annually, the majority of whom are American.
However, some of the county’s travel-related activities have also been subject to recent scrutiny. Earlier this year, a Costa Rican charter plane crashed on New Year’s Eve killing 10 Americans. The airline was temporarily grounded.
In 2016, officials spent months investigating the sinking of a powerboat carrying more than 100 people off the Costa Rican shoreline. Three people died, including one American.
“There are going to be certain companies that hire experienced guides and others that cut corners,” explained Pauline Frommer, the Editorial Director for Frommer’s Travel Guide.
She says Costa Rica is generally safe to travel but visitors should do their homework.
“Talk to the company you’re going to be traveling with, ask them ‘Is the guide licensed, what is their experience level, what happens if something goes wrong.’”