Accident Database

Report ID# 112238

  • Flush Drowning
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

Fatal Accident Report  - Nolichucky River (Gorge Section)

Date: 12 Sept 2020

Incident: Commercial Drowning, Quarter Mile Rapid

Water Level: Morning Gauge reading 900cfs at Embreeville Gauge

Description of Event USA Raft Adventure Resort 230 pm Nolichucky Gorge trip was putting on at the Poplar Put In at approximately 3:30 pm.  Water levels had been noted to have risen to approx. 2000 cfs, due to thunderstorms that had occurred up stream in the Mount Mitchell area of North Carolina.  The trip was 3 boats with 14 customers. Guides noticed that water levels were increasing from the time they put on.  As the boats entered Quarter Mile the sweep boat flipped at Second Drop. The two downstream boats had floating safeties set and began recover guests.  A 63 year old Female customer was noted to have recirculated in Hungry Jack close to Ivan (rock) where she was flushed out and again recirculated in 6th drop and was finally able to be recovered.  She was taken below Murphy’s Ledge where CPR and resuscitation efforts by guide staff and 4 private boaters/off duty staff that came on the situation.  Runners were sent out on the tracks; cell service was found and 911 was contacted.  Members from Bradshaw VFD, Mitchel County EMS responded to Poplar.  Unicoi Co EMS and Southside VFD responded from Chestoa on the train tracks.  CSX was contacted and all train traffic was stopped.  The patient was evacuated up to the train tracks and out the Poplar access via UTV with resuscitation efforts continued throughout the incident.  She was pronounced dead upon arrival at Poplar. 

Woman drowns while on church rafting trip in Mitchell County

by Kristy Kepley-Steward, Kimberly King

WLOS News 13, Asheville, NC

Tuesday, September 15th 2020

MITCHELL COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) — An investigation is underway after a woman drowned while on a church group rafting trip in Mitchell County. Officials say Louvella Yelton Arrowood, 64, of Bakersville, NC, drown after the raft she was in capsized on the Nolichucky River in Mitchell County.

The NC Wildlife Resources Commission Law Enforcement Division says on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, at approximately 4:30 p.m., a raft on the Nolichucky River in Mitchell County capsized while carrying a church group.

Mitchell County Sheriff Donald Street confirms the group was from Odom's Chapel Freewill Baptist Church in Bakersville. Witnesses said a 64-year-old female, who was wearing a PFD and a helmet, went under the water and remained there for 5 to 8 minutes before being pulled out. CPR was performed on the scene but was not successful.

Officials have identified the woman as Louvella Yelton Arrowood of Bakersville, NC. An obituary written for Arrowood on Henline - Hughes Funeral Home's website says she served as a nurse over the years with Blue Ridge Regional Hospital and several private practices.

The Mitchell County Sherriff’s Office notified Officer William Boone with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Law Enforcement Division who will be the lead investigator for this incident. Gail Wilson with NC Wildlife Resources Commission tells News 13 their investigation will determine who was operating the boat and how many people were in it. He says that the basic information so far is that the boat flipped and the victim died.

“This location is about 500 yards from where the raft flipped,” Officer Boone described part of the area they are investigating. “The area where the victim went in is called the 'Quarter-mile Rapids' because for a quarter mile stretch there is nothing but rapids. The river was high at the time of the raft flipping over.”

Boone says the risk factor is high in what he describes as a "technical area." He says the raft company involved, USA Raft Adventure Resort, is based in Erwin, Tennessee and that they are performing their own internal investigation as well.

“Since the location of the accident was inside US Forest service boundaries, the company is also passing on their investigation report to the Forest Service when it’s complete," he says.

Read USA Raft Adventure Resort's incident report below:

Matt Moses, the CEO of USA Raft Adventure Resort released a statement on the drowning as well, calling the tragic incident "extremely rare on commercial trips."

Read his full statement below:

On Saturday Sept 12, 2020 our 2:30 trip had 14 guests and 3 guides. At the beginning of a substantial rapid, a raft flipped. Two other rafts were positioned downstream as part of standard safety procedures and immediately began recovering guests. All guests were recovered by the other rafts quickly. One of the guests, 63 year old female, was pulled from the river into a raft and found to be unresponsive. Our guides, along with guests and two CPR-certified private boaters, responded immediately providing CPR until emergency services arrived. The guest was evacuated up the train tracks to where the trip initially launched in Poplar, NC. It was here that Mitchell County EMS took control of the incident and eventually pronounced her death. We are heartbroken to report that she passed away.

Evacuations, serious injury and death are extremely rare on commercial trips on the Nolichucky. Our guides and trip leaders are very well-trained and prepared to minimize the risk involved and respond to incidents on the river.

We want to thank emergency responders, guides and guests for their assistance during this tragedy. Specifically we want to thank Bradshaw, NC VFD, Mitchell County EMS, Unicoi County Sheriff's Dept, Southside Rescue Squad, CSX and Unicoi County EMS.

At this point, we are doing everything we can to support our staff members that were both on the river that day or involved in the efforts from our headquarters. What happened Saturday was a tragedy for our guests, our guides and community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deceased as well as everyone that was on the trip or otherwise involved.

At this time, this incident is still under investigation.

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