On a warm summer day in 2010, Coral Amayi was floating down the Animas River near Durango, Colorado, when she hit a strong rapid and got tossed out of her inner tube. Though Amayi emerged from the water unscathed, she realized that her digital camera’s cord had snapped, sending the device—and all of the images on it—tumbling through the water.
She tried briefly to retrieve the Olympus digital camera, which had a memory card with photos from a friend’s bridal shower and wedding, plus snapshots of her dog, a friend’s first baby and a recent camping trip. With the water moving too quickly, she was forced to give up her search. Amayi was devastated, but ultimately ended up putting the incident behind her.
“I figured I’d never see [the photos] again,” she tells the Washington Post’s Cathy Free.
Last month, 13 years after the incident, a Durango fisherman named Spencer Greiner spotted a digital camera sticking out of the mud along the banks of the Animas River. Battered and caked in dirt, the device had definitely seen better days, but Greiner’s curiosity got the best of him. When he got back home later that day, he carefully extracted the camera’s memory card, plugged it into a card reader and crossed his fingers.
What he saw on the screen astonished him: dozens of photos—some a little blurry but otherwise fine—showing smiling individuals, a dog, someone’s baby and other pleasant scenes. Would he be able to track down the camera’s owner? He knew he had to at least try.
On a private Durango Facebook group, he uploaded some of the photos with the message: “Did you get married on June 12th 2010 in the Durango area? Did you have an ugly brown stretch station wagon at your bachelorette party? Do you recognize any of these people? If so please contact me.”
Right away, members of the group began identifying the various people in the photos—and, eventually, tagged Amayi.
Amayi was at a work conference when she heard that Greiner had found her long-lost camera, and she was overjoyed by the news.
“I was just totally dumbfounded,” she tells the TV station KDVR’s Evan Kruegel. “And I got up and was like dancing in the bathroom, and I was like, ‘Who am I going to tell?! I need to tell this to somebody like right now.’”
Greiner sent her all of the photos he’d retrieved from the camera. Looking through the images brought back a flood of memories for Amayi, who now lives in Arizona and works as a sex educator. She teared up when she saw snapshots of her dog, Zona, who had recently died.
Next, Greiner plans to send Amayi the decaying digital camera. Eventually, he hopes they can meet in person to celebrate appropriately: by taking a photo together.
For his part, Greiner says he just did what he thought was right. As the father of a small child, he understands the sentimental value of photographs and hopes someone would do the same for him.
“I knew those pictures were sentimental to someone,” Grinder tells Today’s Chrissy Callahan. “Taking five minutes to make a Facebook post was the least I could do. It turns out that was all that was needed.”