GREAT FALLS – The man who died in the Smith River south of Great Falls on Monday has been identified as Chad NewBreast, 44 of Billings.
Three men were on the river with two boats near the Eden Bridge. The Smith River was running high and fast at the time of the incident, according to Cascade County Sheriff Bob Edwards.
The preliminary investigation indicates that a two-man boat rounded a corner on the river and hit a large rock, causing the boat to capsize.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks said that NewBreast became pinned on a rock midstream, witnesses at the scene said.
NewBreast was not able to make it out of the river and died, according to Edwards. The cause of his death has not yet been determined.
Edwards says that life-vests were available but were not being used.
Deputies from the Sheriff’s Office, Search and Rescue, and Ulm Fire were able to recover the body.
The other man was able to get to the shore and was said to be in good condition.
Responding agencies included Sheriff’s Office, Ulm Fire, Ulm QRU, MT FWP, Cascade County Search and Rescue, and Mercy Flight.
Eden Bridge is the only take-out point following a nearly 60-mile stretch of the Smith River that flows through a remote canyon. That section of the the river is only open to permitted floaters and guides; permits are awarded annually via a lottery drawing conducted by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
FWP says that rivers throughout Montana this year are running high from melting snow and rain. That water is powerful and cold, even on a hot, sunny day.
At Eden Bridge, the Smith was flowing almost 1,700 cubic feet per second at the time of the accident. The long-term average is about 950 cfs. Water temperature was in the low 50s. A person without a life jacket can drown in a matter of minutes when falling into cold water. Everyone in a boat or even near rapidly flowing water should wear a well-fitted Personal Flotation Device or life jacket.
FWP says that on Sunday, May 20, a man and a woman wading in Belt Creek east of Great Falls were swept downstream in a remote section of Sluice Boxes State Park. Neither person was wearing a life-jacket, but the the pair were able to scramble up a cliff face and escape the canyon. The man reportedly said he was surprised at the strength of the water even though he was a good swimmer.