The Missoula man who died in a rafting accident on the runoff-swollen Blackfoot River Sunday was identified Monday as 38-year-old Stephen Eugene Cannon.

Cannon fell from his 14-foot raft shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday as he and a friend floated the river downstream from the Roundup Bridge northeast of Potomac. Although the river is rough and rapid in the first mile downstream from the bridge, Missoula County sheriff's Senior Deputy Bob Parcell said the accident occurred in a relatively flat section of water.

"The river is running high, but it didn't really look that bad," Parcell said Monday.

Why Cannon, who was wearing chest-high neoprene waders, fell from his Sotar raft may never be known. His friend was floating in a separate raft and looked around to see Cannon already out of his boat, Parcell said.

"He couldn't tell what had happened, and he just started trying to help his friend get back in one of the boats," Parcell said.

At first, the 200-plus pound Cannon tried to crawl back into his own boat. He couldn't make it. His friend then tried to pull him aboard his pontoon raft, but he couldn't get Cannon aboard, Parcell said.

"(Cannon's) a big guy and his friend did the best he could, but he just couldn't get him up," Parcell said. Cannon, who was wearing a life preserver, then floated away from his friend's boat.

"He was finally able to get him over to the bank, but at that point he'd been in the water a long time," Parcell said.

Cannon's friend - whom Parcell did not name - tried cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and sent a group of kayakers to summon help, but Cannon did not survive. On Monday, Parcell said Cannon's death was classified a drowning.

Although the Blackfoot is high now, it's not abnormally so, said Mike Johnson, owner of Montana River Guides, who ran a guided trip in the same section of river on Sunday and helped recover Cannon's boat. The river is extremely cold, however, with water temperatures hovering in the upper 40s.

Johnson emphasized that people using the river in June need to have appropriate equipment and either training or experience in self-rescue. Cannon had a quality raft and a life preserver, but both Parcell and Johnson said Cannon's decision to wear waders may have been ill-advised.

"Waders make it very difficult for you to rescue yourself," Johnson said. "If you're going to be out at this time of year, you have to really be ready to save yourself if you go into the water."

Tuesday - 6/8/99

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