published Monday, June 6th, 2011

Rafter drowns on Ocoee River

The death of a man on a guided rafting trip Sunday on the Ocoee River appears to be the first fatal accident of a customer in more than 15 years.

“This is very rare,” Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesman Dan Hicks said Sunday. He said the agency has never handled a raft-related fatality on the Ocoee in the 16 years he’s been working there.

“I’ve been on those trips and always considered it pretty safe,” he said.

The 36-year-old Arlington, Tenn., man was on an Ocoee Outdoors raft with five other people and a guide when the craft flipped in the rapids near the Ocoee Whitewater Center, Hicks said.

The other riders were occupied with struggling to re-board the raft, Hicks said

“They managed to get back on and discovered him floating further down the river face-down,” Hicks said.

Rescuers administered CPR, but it was too late. Hicks said the man was wearing a life jacket and helmet.

In July 2005, a guide with a different company drowned while trying to free a stuck raft. And in June 1995, a Smyrna, Ga., man drowned after his raft capsized and he was caught in a hydraulic current, newspaper archives show.

The incident comes as rafting season on the Ocoee begins to ramp up. Thousands of people come each year to paddle the rivers’ rapids, some of which reach Class V, the second most-difficult level.

Hicks did not know what class of rapids the raft was on when it overturned.

Ocoee Outdoors has been guiding trips for more than 35 years, according to its website. No one from the company could be reached for comment Sunday.

Hicks said the company appeared to be following safety protocol, with all passengers in helmets and life jackets. Still, he said, there will be an investigation and an autopsy.

“A lot of people have fallen off rafts and been fine, and so we’re just not sure what happened in his case,” he said.

The victim’s name has not been released pending family notification.

The death is the second boating-related fatality in the region and the eighth in Tennessee this year, Hicks said.

A man was killed in an incident involving a kayak on the Tellico River in January, he said.

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blake said...

FYI...There are no class V rapids on the Ocoee River. At normal commercial rafting release flows, the rapids are mostly class III & IV, including the Upper Ocoee and Olympic section. The raft overturned in a class IV rapid called Humongous. Very sorry to hear about this fatality and our prayers go out to the deceased, his family/friends, and the guides and staff at Ocoee Outdoors, which is a wonderful company here on the Ocoee River. Considering this river sees about 250,000-300,000 rafters annually, there have only been a handful of commercial rafting fatalities since it has been rafted commercially since 1976.

June 7, 2011 at 2:41 p.m.
WhitesCreek said...

Humongous rapid is on the lower end of the man made Olympic whitewater venue. I avoid it.

June 8, 2011 at 8:05 a.m.
Cissy17 said...

I almost died on this river in 2002 when the raft I was in flipped at humongous and I got caught in a hydraulic current. Once I pushed out, no one could rescue me. They threw ropes but I kept being pulled under by the consecutive rapids. I was beaten by rocks and almost drowned. I was not rescued unto right before the last rapid on that Olympic course. A safety boat came after me. I'm strong, athletic, but still...this wiped me out and my hip was severely injured. I still see a chiropractor for it.afterwards, I did not receive any actual health care until I got home a few hours away. The staff did not help. Later though, I went back and had a different guide Justus, and he was a big help during the trip...I went in the middle river to help me emotionally heal from the pain the trip in 2002 brought in my life, took years to get over, major PTSD and physical injuries. The Olympic course needs more safety and guidance and very good guides...I didn't feel as prepared or very informed. There needs to be more realities and quality guides who know what they are doing, my first guide in 2002 was terrible. She fell out first and was not helpful. The person who rescued me was another guide from another boat. All of the various companies should have more unity and training.

April 2, 2013 at 10:42 a.m.
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