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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