'A bright light:' Ann Arbor woman dies in Grand Canyon flash flood

Staff and Wire Reports
The Detroit News

Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz. — A 29-year-old UM graduate was found dead in frigid water Thursday after an overnight flash flood at the Grand Canyon washed away her campsite. 

Rebecca Copeland

The body of Rebecca Copeland of Ann Arbor was found near her commercial rafting group's campsite along the Colorado River after it had been engulfed by a torrent of water that rushed through a slot canyon Wednesday evening, Grand Canyon National Park park officials said in a statement. Officials identified Copeland on Friday.

A commercial rafting group found Copeland's body, and the group also found an uninjured second person who also had been reported missing, the statement said.

Five injured people, including one in critical condition, were evacuated by air from the canyon, the statement said. Their identities weren't released.

Copeland graduated this year with dual master's degrees from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the Ford School of Public Policy, the university confirmed. She was dedicated to public health and described by a professor as "a bright light and a joy."

"She was passionate about health policy and about to start a job with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation," said David Hutton, one of Copeland's professors of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan. 

In addition to being a dual-degree student, Copeland was part of the University of Michigan's Center for Value-Based Insurance Design where she researched ways to improve health care and she volunteered as an alumni board student liaison.

Copeland was also a David A. Winston Health Policy Scholar, an honor given out to a handful of students nationally each year, said Hutton.

"Professionally, she was sharp as a tack and willing to tackle the messy problems we face in our health care system," Hutton said. "Personally, she was a bright light and a joy to be around. She will be greatly missed." 

This photo provided by John Dillon shows the effects of flooding in the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on Thursday. The river that's normally a greenish color turned a muddy brown from flash floods that have inundated Arizona.

The National Park Service is investigating the incident in coordination with the Coconino County medical examiner, the statement said.

The flood hit the camp set up about 40 miles downstream from where the rafts launched at Lees Ferry near the Arizona-Utah state line, turning the normally greenish-colored river into a muddy brown.

Forecasters had issued a flash flood watch for the area Wednesday, but it wasn't clear whether the rafting guides were aware.

The flood was part of monsoon storms that have inundated Arizona this week, including in Flagstaff where streets in some areas were left a muddy mess as water mixed with logs and debris swept through.

The entire Southwest, which has been desperate for rain after two years of dismal monsoon activity, has been hammered lately with storms. More rain is in the forecast.

Detroit News Staff Writer Amelia Benavides-Colon and the Associated Press contributed.