Former Baker City man dies in flash flood in Colombia

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

By CHRIS COLLINS

ccollins@bakercityherald.com

A former Baker City man who worked as a smokejumper based at Redmond during fire season and spent the rest of the year kayaking the rivers of South America, died Tuesday after being swept away from his campsite during a flash flood in Colombia, South America.

The body of 37-year-old Mark Hentze was found Thursday morning, his father said.

Mark is the son of Dick Hentze and Jan Hentze, both of Baker City, retired longtime elementary school teachers for the Baker School District. Mark's younger brother, Brad, and his wife, Stephanie, who live at Salem, traveled to Baker City this week after learning that Mark had gone missing.

Preparations are being made to return his remains to Baker City.

"He and a friend were camping on a river that flash flooded," Dick Hentze said Thursday afternoon. "There is speculation that there had been some kind of log jam that gave way."

Hentze said his son and his friend were apparently preparing to spend the night on some rocks near the river.

"It surely had to do in some manner with kayaking," he said.

The family learned Wednesday that the other man camping with Mark had hiked out, reviving hope that Mark might do the same.

The Hentzes, who are divorced, said their son loved kayaking and he loved traveling, especially to Colombia, where he had many friends.

"He really fell in love with the country, the rivers, the geography, the people - he was just very taken with it," Dick Hentze said.

Mark, who was single, bought his first kayak his first year out of high school when he also began his firefighting career. During the off season he traveled, Dick said.

He had been to Nepal, Argentina, Chile and Peru and made an excursion trip to Antarctica.

The 1993 Baker High School graduate earned a bachelor's degree in psychology, with a minor in English, from Eastern Oregon University at La Grande in 1998.

His father described him as a talented writer and an accomplished photographer, skills he put to use in his book "Colombia Whitewater." Published in 2009, the book documents more than 30 rivers in Colombia.

Mark shared his loved of kayaking with his mother, but unlike her son, Jan Hentze said she confines her travels mostly to flat water. Through her enthusiasm for the sport, she has recruited other Baker City friends to join her.

Dick Hentze, on the other hand, said he prefers to row a drift boat.

He said he and Jan, along with Brad and Stephanie, plan at some point to travel to Colombia to learn more about Mark's life and his friends in South America.

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The Baker City Herald
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