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Accident Description


Posted on the NPS Morning Report on 06/21/06:

New River Gorge National River (WV)

River Rafter Drowns in Iron Ring Rapid

The park received a call for help on June 14th from a commercial rafting company running trips on the Gauley River. According to reports, the raft trip was running Iron Ring Rapid on the Upper Gauley River when one of the passengers, Neville Williams, 67, of St. Michael's, Maryland, lost his balance and fell out of the raft and into the Class V rapid. Williams remained at the surface for a second and then disappeared into the turbulent water just above an undercut rock with a crack referred to as Woodstock Rock.

Guides who had positioned themselves as safeties below the rapid rushed to the point last seen and immediately threw weighted ropes into the rapids above the rock. The guide for Williams? raft ran upstream, jumped into the rapid, and positioned herself in the water to be flushed through an area called the Flume of Doom, where she searched for Williams. Another guide secured a line to his rescue vest and with the aid of others lowered himself into the rapid above Woodstock Rock. On the second lowering, the guide felt what he believed to be a life jacket at the base of the rock. Several attempts were made to free the item with paddles, poles and weighted drag ropes, but without success.

One of the guides was able to climb to higher ground, where a radio call for assistance was made. Upon receiving the call, NPS rangers and two volunteer rescue squads responded to the scene. The Army Corps of Engineers was notified and the Summersville Dam, upstream of the rapid, reduced it?s discharge to minimum flow. Once on scene, rangers determined that rescue efforts would be suspended until the river flow was reduced. Upon nightfall, all personnel were called off the river. Recovery efforts began the following morning. River rangers were assisted by five experienced guides from the rafting company and members of the Anstead and Nuttall volunteer fire departments.

After approximately five hours of working with grappling hooks, ropes, pulleys and a complex rigging system, Williams' body was freed from under Woodstock Rock. Evidence indicated that his hand became entrapped in the rocks, causing him to be held underwater. The body was transported by Jan-Care ambulance to the West Virginia medical examiner. The follow-up investigation is being conducted by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, which by legislation has jurisdiction over commercial rafting in the park. Ranger Peggy Brown served as IC throughout the incident.

[Submitted by Gary Hartley, Chief Ranger]

NB: Water level was 900 cfs. ccw

Crews search for rafting accident victim

Amelia Pridemore Register-Herald Reporter

Rescue workers navigated the treacherous rapids of the Upper Gauley River on Wednesday in search of a man presumed to have drowned in a rafting accident. The man was among a scouting group being taken down the Upper Gauley by Oak Hill-based Ace Adventure Center, said Chief Ranger Gary Hartley of the New River Gorge National River. When the group reached the Iron Ring rapid near the Fayette-Nicholas county line, the man was ejected from the raft. He was last seen going toward a rock. Hartley said the man was in his late 60s and his hometown was unknown. The man's identity was being withheld Wednesday night to ensure notification of next of kin.

The search was suspended at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, and it was to be resumed at daylight today. The group was on a Class V rapid, one of the most difficult rapids in whitewater rafting, Hartley said. There was no indication anyone else on the raft was injured, Hartley said. How the man was ejected will require further investigation by the National Park Service and the state Division of Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over commercial whitewater rafting outfits. ?There's a group of rocks we suspect this individual is caught underneath,? Hartley said. ?This requires a high level of technical skill.?

The operations are taking place in one of the park's most remote areas, Hartley said. Rescue workers? hand-held radios will not function there. The Ansted and Nutall volunteer fire departments were assisting the park service, Hartley said.

This time of year is not the normal season for whitewater trips on the Upper Gauley, Hartley said, but Ace Adventure Center has apparently been doing summer trips for several years. Compared to Gauley season in September and October, the water level is lower. ?(But) the rapids can be more technically difficult,? he said

Whitewater rafter's body recovered

By Amelia A. Pridemore REGISTER-HERALD REPORTER

The body of a Maryland man who drowned in an Upper Gauley River whitewater rafting accident was recovered early Thursday afternoon, authorities reported. Rescue workers recovered the body of Neville Williams, 67, of St. Michaels, Md., at 12:45 p.m., said Chief Ranger Gary Hartley of the New River Gorge National River. Williams' body was located by a rock known as "Woodstock," which was near the point where he went overboard while whitewater rafting Wednesday afternoon.

Williams was with a scouting/explorer group being taken down the Upper Gauley by Oak Hill-based Ace Adventure Center, Hartley said. When the group reached the Iron Ring rapid near the Fayette-Nicholas County line, Williams was ejected from the raft. According to witnesses, the group was going through an area with several drops, Hartley said. Williams was bounced out of the raft on the first drop. Because they were in the middle of a rapid, the group could not turn the raft around. In the whitewater rafting industry, it is customary to have what are called set safeties go ahead of the groups and often stay on each side of the rafts, Hartley said. These people are positioned to throw ropes to those who may go overboard. The safety on this trip apparently did not see Williams go through the rapid.

The investigation will be turned over to the state Division of Natural Resources, the agency governing the whitewater industry, Hartley said. Williams' body was taken to the state medical examiners office in South Charleston. The rescue efforts were challenging given the Class V rapids, Hartley said. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dropped water flow at Summersville Dam to 200 cubic feet per second. Special permission was later obtained to drop the flow further to 100 cfs. The Nuttall and Ansted volunteer fire departments and Jan-Care Ambulance assisted the National Park Service at the scene along with five guides from Ace Whitewater Adventure Center, Hartley said. The guides' knowledge of the rapids and rocks was extremely valuable during the search.

Whitewater rafting fatalities in the national park are rare, Hartley said. Whitewater rafters are accompanied by expert guides, and companies have plenty of safety equipment on hand. Most drownings in the area occur in the calmer areas of the New River, in which those swimming and fishing, often with no lifejackets, fall victim. This individual was doing everything right, Hartley said. He was with a very experienced guide, he was wearing safety equipment a helmet. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Williams was visiting the area with his wife, Hartley said. His wife stayed behind at Ace Adventure Center while he went on the Upper Gauley.

Rafter Dies on Gauley River

Posted 9/30/2005

The West Virginia Medical Examiner Releases Cause of Death of Rafter. Story by Gina Long The State Medical Examiner has released the cause of death of a man who died in the Gauley River on Monday. Autopsy reports show 50-year-old Glenn Wendell Rodgers from Louisville, Kentucky died of blunt-force trauma. Investigators say Rodgers was knocked out of his raft when it flipped during a church rafting trip Monday. He fell into the river on the Iron Ring Rapid. Rodgers died at Summersville Memorial Hospital. This death is the latest in a string of accidents on the river. Gary Hartley with the National Park Service says there were more than a handful of rescues on the river last weekend.