Costa Rica News – On the third day of their honeymoon last month in Costa Rica, Mark Zakutansky and his wife, Leigh Tetor, marveled at the surrounding jungle as they paddled their raft down a rain-soaked river.
The Albrightsville couple, who commute to the Lehigh Valley for work, are experienced whitewater rafters, kayakers and canoeists who have traveled all over the country to share their passion. Zakutansky works as the mid-Atlantic policy manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club based in Bethlehem, and Tetor teaches physics at Northampton Area High School.
A video shot during the July 30 rafting trip shows Zakutansky and Tetor smiling and chatting with other rafters as they paddle through a light rain. The tranquility is broken by loud cracking noises from the high cliffs that surround the Pacuare River.
The group begins paddling furiously as a massive tree crashes down, narrowly missing the raft. But that tree brings down a second tree that smashes directly into the middle of the raft, folding it like a sheet of paper.
The video goes dark for several seconds, with only the sounds of muffled yelling and rushing water. When the rafters right themselves and begin yelling for help, they realize several were seriously injured. On the video, Tetor screams that she thinks her leg is broken.
More than a week later, the couple remains in a Costa Rican hospital where Tetor has undergone several surgeries to repair her shattered right fibula. Zakutansky was able to escape injury, and he said they aren’t deterred by the accident.
“Leigh and I chose to spend our honeymoon in an adventurous way. Life is filled with adventures, some more trying than others,” Zakutansky said in an email Monday after a family member told The Morning Call about the honeymoon gone awry. “We know that we can weather anything that life throws at us in the future.”
Zakutansky and Tetor met in 2009 through their shared love of the outdoors. They worked for nearly 10 years as whitewater rafting guides for Whitewater Challenges in Weatherly, Carbon County.
They married July 24 and a photo taken the following day on the Lehigh River shows Tetor wearing a white tank top labeled “Bride” with a veil flowing behind her as she and Zakutansky paddled together in a canoe marked “Just Married!”
Zakutansky said they chose to live in the Poconos because they “cherish easy access” to outdoor activities like skiing, hiking and whitewater rafting.
Although rafting is known as an “inherently dangerous” activity, Zakutansky said he believes their honeymoon accident was “clearly an act of God.”
“The river guides and rescuers demonstrated unparalleled professionalism and resolve,” Zakutansky said. “Without their high level of training and expertise, the outcome may have been very different.”
After the tree came crashing down, Zakutansky said, the rafters swam downstream while keeping watch for any other fallen trees. With Tetor’s shattered leg, they managed to swim to a nearby beach where a passing raft group was able to stop and help.
Tetor was “in a lot of pain,” and was eventually taken downstream to Hospital Clínica Bíblica where she continues to recover.
Zakutansky was “extremely lucky” to escape without injuries. The dramatic video was shot by Monica Diehl from Houston, who was also on her honeymoon with her husband, Adam. Both suffered bruising and injuries, but were later able to continue their honeymoon travels.
“I just kept thinking to make sure to hold on and stay on the raft while looking up to make sure no more trees were going to fall on us,” Diehl wrote in an email. “We are extremely fortunate to be alive.”
Zakutansky said another couple suffered more serious injuries that included head injuries and a broken foot.
“Though our honeymoon did not go as planned, we will always remember the outpouring of love and support from our family and friends,” Zakutansky said.