The Ocoee River claimed another life Saturday - the fifth in three years.
Gary Brown, 50, of Clayton, N.C., died after the raft he was in with six others including a tour guide overturned in a rapid. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Brown was found unresponsive downriver.
Investigators say the accident is being ruled an accidental drowning, as Brown was wearing a life jacket at the time of the incident and no external injuries were found on his body. However, the accident is still under investigation by TWRA and Tennessee State Parks.
According to TWRA, rafting fatalities on the Ocoee River are fairly uncommon. Brown's brings the total to 10 over the past 23 years.
Two occurred last August -- on consecutive days -- when Marnita McGruder, 51, of Rex, Ga., and Katherine Tyler Luna, 36, of Smyrna, Tenn., lost their lives in the Middle section of the Ocoee on a rapid called "Grumpy's." Both were part of a professionally guided tour with separate well-established whitewater adventure outfitters.
And in 2011, two people died within a month of each other on the Upper Ocoee, which contains the section built for Olympic paddlers.
At the time of the 2013 deaths, the Tennessee Valley Authority reported that the river was running higher than usual, but that the levels were within the range considered safe for commercial rafting.
Yesterday, www.BoatingBeta.com listed most of the Ocoee sections typically traveled by those seeking an adrenaline rush -- whether as part of a tour group or as an independent paddler -- as "too low." The website is used by paddlers to rate the water flow at various places and identifies too low as "seldom run lower by anyone who isn't desperate and/or lives by the put-in."
However, the Middle section of the Ocoee was rated as "low: Frequently run this low. Worth a look but probably not a long drive."
Every year, about 230,000 adventurers flock to the Ocoee River, about 45 minutes northeast of Chattanooga, which is the most-visited whitewater river in the United States, according to a study by the University of Tennessee released last year.
The Ocoee contains Level III and IV rapids, which require at least strong intermediate skills, according to American Whitewater, a national nonprofit organization focused on preserving rivers and whitewater.