Accident Database

Report ID# 114987

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Darkness
  • Inadequate Equipment
  • Inexperience
  • Poor Group / Scene Management
  • Poor Planning

Accident Description

Crews searching for 5 people after group on rafts go over Duke Energy Dam in Eden


by: Justyn Melrose, Paul Choate

Posted: Jun 17, 2021

EDEN, N.C. (WGHP) — Emergency crews are leading a water rescue at the Duke Energy Dam off N.C. 700 in Eden, according to Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates. Cates said a group of nine people were on three rafts and went over the dam between 7:30 p.m. and sunset on Wednesday. The incident was reported to the Rockingham County 911 Center by a Duke Energy employee around 3:15 p.m. Thursday. Four people were located in the river and taken to the hospital. Crews are still searching for five others. Cates said the people who have been located did not have life-threatening injuries. Crews are searching the river all the way back toward the Virginia state line. They have used boats and helicopters in the search. As for why the incident was not reported until Thursday afternoon, Cates said he believes the people on the rafts probably did not have a way to contact emergency services.


3 dead, 2 people missing after going over steep dam while tubing along North Carolina river

A search and rescue mission is currently underway.

By Meredith Deliso, ABC News

June 17, 2021

Three people are dead and two remain missing after five people who were tubing on a North Carolina river went over the edge of a steep dam, authorities said. The five tubers were part of a group of nine people total who went tubing on the Dan River Wednesday evening, according to the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office. The group's tubes were believed to be tied together, but at one point several came apart. The tubers floated over the dam, located near a local power plant, at around 7 or 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, authorities said.

Four people who were "hanging on to various items" were rescued from the river at around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Lt. Kevin Suthard, a spokesperson for the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office, told ABC Radio. They were sent to a hospital for treatment, he said. They are expected to recover, officials said.

Two people are still missing after going over the edge of a dam, the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office said. A search and rescue effort is currently underway from the Duke Energy plant to the Virginia state line, authorities said. "We have done both an air and water search at this time," Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates told Winston-Salem, North Carolina, ABC affiliate WXLV Thursday evening, prior to the three victims being found. Aircraft have searched the river 6 miles into Virginia and back and along the ground adjacent to the river, Cates said. Another aircraft search is planned for Thursday night equipped with an infrared camera. "They'll be able to look at night, pick up heat images at night, in case they were able to get out of the river," Cates said.Two boats are also searching the river.

Tubing is a "regular activity" in the area, said Suthard, though he added that people are discouraged from tubing near the dam. "It's a pretty steep drop," he said.


Not sure if anyone has sent you information on drownings on Dan river  Eden NC dam at Duke power where ash spill happened a few years ago. I hear that 9 people all ages had Walmart rafts &tubes &Putin river at 8pm which should of gotten them to dam 10-11pm in dark & probably unaware of the dam I assume? Local drba rep.Brian Williams told me the warning signs for dam information were destroyed by local rednecks ,very unfortunate for the 3 verified drownings & 2missing still . River rescue crew searching now. Very sad ,I will try to send some kind of published report for aw if you do not have one.


Searchers comb river after 3 tubers die, 2 disappear at dam

By GERRY BROOME, Associated Press

Published: Jun. 18, 2021

EDEN, N.C. (AP) — Searchers combed a North Carolina river Friday for two missing tubers after a family on a recreational float went over a dam, resulting in three deaths and the rescue of four people from the water.

The group of nine, all believed to be part of the same family, was floating down the Dan River on inflatable tubes and went over a dam that’s about 8 feet (2.5 meters) high next to a Duke Energy plant Wednesday night, Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates told reporters.

A Duke Energy employee who saw some of the tubers called the situation in to 911 on Thursday afternoon, and four were rescued that day. Three tubers’ bodies were also found Thursday.

Cates said that the rescued tubers spent the night floating in the water near the dam before they were found clinging to the tubes. He said they managed to stay afloat for approximately 19 hours, describing them as “very, very fatigued” when they were found. The four were taken to a hospital and were expected to survive.

Cates said the search for the two still missing was suspended late Friday afternoon and would resume Saturday. He said he was still optimistic the two missing tubers could be found alive. Earlier in the day, rescue personnel were seen hauling rafts toward the water Friday at a staging area in Eden, north of Greensboro near the Virginia state line. “We’re still positive and optimistic, but we’ll see how things go tomorrow,” Cates told reporters.

Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page identified those rescued as Reuben Villano, 35; and children Eric, 14, and Irene, 18, all of Eden. Also rescued were Karlos Villano of LaPorte, Indiana. A news release from the sheriff’s office didn’t indicate how Karlos Villano was related to the others, except to say he was a visiting relative.

The sheriff’s office identified the victims as Bridish Crawford, 27, and Antonio Ramon, 30, of Eden; and Sophie Wilson, 14, also of LaPorte, Indiana.Still missing are Teresa Villano, 35, and Isiah Crawford, 7, both from Eden, the sheriff’s office said.

First responders indicated the survivors were caught in fast-moving water near the dam when they were found, according to recordings of scanner traffic on First responders could be heard over public safety radio ordering boats and other swift water rescue equipment to the area shortly after the 911 call came in around 3:15 p.m. Thursday.

“We’re taking a call on the Dan River at the dam near the Duke Energy plant. Caller is advising five tubers … went over the dam,” one person says.

A rescuer says on the recording that some of the tubers were stuck near the dam because of the pull of water flowing over it.

“They’re on that side … at the abutment for the dam. And they’re all caught in the pull. If you can come over … we can probably pull them out pretty good, hopefully,” the rescuer can be heard saying.

Cates told reporters Friday that debris and rocks in the river can puncture tubes or rafts, so it’s important for people to wear life preservers. He said it wasn’t clear if any of the nine were using life preservers.

“The current of the river makes it very hard to navigate, even for the most experienced swimmers. So we strongly encourage people to wear some type of personal floatation device in addition to the tube they’re in,” he said.

He said it’s not unusual for people to float the river on tubes or rafts in the area, but most get out and walk around the dam, which is marked by a sign.

Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said the employee who called 911 to report the tubers wasn’t available for an interview.

Associated Press writers Jonathan Drew in Durham and Tom Foreman Jr. in Winston-Salem contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Family float trip ends in tragedy after group went over North Carolina dam

The search continues for two who remain missing. Three people died and four others were previously rescued on the Dan River.

June 18, 2021

By Phil Helsel, NBC News

Searchers on Friday spent a second day scouring a North Carolina river for a 30-year-old woman and a 7-year-old boy missing since they went over a dam during a family float trip. Three people, including a 14-year-old, were found dead Thursday after nine relatives on inflatable tubes in the Dan River went over the dam around nightfall Wednesday, the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office said.

Four people were rescued, and two others, Teresa Villino, 30, and Isiah Crawford, 7, remained missing, the office said.  "This is a very tragic situation," Sheriff Sam Page said at a news conference Friday, adding that the search will continue. "We want to find these people and make sure they're OK," he said. All nine people in the group were floating on tubes that were tied together when they went over the around 8-foot-tall dam near a power plant on the Dan River in the northern part of the state, officials said.

The dam is around 8 1/2 feet tall with no water, officials said. The bottom of the dam, there's around 2 to 3 feet of water "just churning in a hydraulic manner," Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates said.

It wasn't until around 3:30 p.m. the next day when a Duke Energy employee thought there were people in trouble on the river and called 911, the sheriff’s office said. Responding rescuers saved four, including three teens, who told authorities there were others from their group who were missing.

The four pulled from the water were clinging to several tubes and were "very tired, very fatigued," Cates said.  "They had been subject to the elements for 19 hours," he said. A 35-year-old man, an 18-year-old and two 14-year-olds were rescued. They were taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life threatening, authorities said. The three people found dead Thursday have been identified by the sheriff's office as Bridish Crawford, 27; Antonio Ramon, 30; and Sophie Wilson, 14.

Some of the family lives in the Eden area, and Page said he is not sure how familiar they were with the river. Investigators will follow up to find out how they came to be so close to the dam, which has warning signs, officials said.

The search will continue Saturday and include fresh crews from other counties. "Perhaps a new set of eyes could shed a new light on something that's out there, so that's why we're remaining optimistic," Cates said.


3 dead after inner-tubers go over river dam in North Carolina

By Josh K. Elliott  Global News

Posted June 18, 2021

Three inner tubes are shown at the site of the Duke Energy dam in Eden, N.C., on June 17, 2021.View image in full screen

A lazy journey down a river turned into a terrifying plunge over a dam in North Carolina on Wednesday night, in an inner-tube accident that left at least three people dead.

Nine individuals were riding their inner tubes down the Dan River when they were swept over the dam in the disastrous incident, according to Rodney Cates, director of Rockingham County Emergency Services. They fell about 2.4 metres (eight feet) over the edge of a dam owned by Duke Energy in Eden, N.C., he said.

Authorities did not learn about the incident until the following day, when an employee at the dam saw people on the water around 3:15 p.m. The employee called 911 and officials showed up to rescue the injured tubers.

Three bodies were found below the dam, four survivors were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and two people were still missing as of Thursday night, Cates said.

“We’re going to stay positive that we can do a rescue rather than a recovery,” he told NBC News.

The search resumed with boats and helicopters on Friday morning. Crews ranged several kilometres over the state border into Virginia for their search, but no people or bodies were initially found in the morning.

Tubing is a popular activity in the area but authorities discourage people from doing it near the dam, officials told ABC News. Cates said the accident shows why it’s important to be alert at all times on the water. “Know where you are, know your surroundings, have your safety vest, your life vest,” he said. “The inner tube may not always stay inflated and if the inner tube is not inflated you need some type of flotation device to secure you as you are coming on down the river.” As of this writing, the search is ongoing.


Dan River latest: 4 dead, including 7-year-old boy; pregnant woman still missing

30-year-old Teresa Villano is still missing. She is pregnant, family members told WFMY News 2.

Author: Brian Bennett, Grace Holland, Megan Allman (WFMY News 2 Digital), Terrence Jefferies (WFMY News 2)

June 17, 2021

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. — Latest: Highway Patrol helicopter crews began searching the Drapers Landing area along the Dan River around 2 p.m.. Monday. They're in search of the ninth family member involved in a tubing accident on the river - a 30-year-old pregnant woman named Teresa Villano. Rockingham County search and rescue crews found the fourth victim from the family that went missing tubing down the Dan River. The body of 7-year-old Isiah Crawford was recovered from the river Sunday morning, officials said. 30-year-old Teresa Villano is still missing. She is pregnant, family members told WFMY News 2. Crews searched Drapers Landing near the Virginia border, where Isiah's body was found, but didn't find her. The days-long search for the family began Thursday. Nine of them were tubing down the Dan River when they went over a Duke Energy dam near Eden Wednesday night. Four people have now died. Four others survived. One person is still missing.


Isiah Crawford, 7, of Eden

Bridish Crawford, 27, of Eden (Isiah's mother)

Antonio Ramon, 30, of Eden

Sophie Wilson, 16, of LaPorte, Indiana


Rueben Villano, 35, of Eden (Eric and Irene's father)

Eric Villano, 14, of Eden

Irene Villano, 18, of Eden

Karlos Villano, 14, of LaPorte, Indiana


Teresa Villano, 30, of Eden

Crews suspended a 30-hour long search on Saturday. Isiah's body was found the next morning. “The river flow increased overnight with the release of the water from Belews Lake and we knew it was very likely the victims could surface as a result of the increased river flow,” a Rockingham County spokesperson said in a news release. “We continue to stand firmly behind the decision made Saturday to suspend search efforts until we had new leads upon which to search.” County officials said at no point have they, or will they cease recovery operations.

Four family members were rescued Thursday at the bottom of the dam nearly a day after the accident. A Duke Energy worker called 911 after seeing them in the water, clinging to their inner tubes, and yelling for help. Crews used boats and helicopters from multiple jurisdictions to begin the search for the other family members."Very fatigued and strained from the elements and the day, the night, and the physical strength that it took to hold on until we got somebody there," Cates said.

She said she was able to get a grip to the left of the dam and hold onto her father, brother, and 14-year-old Karlos Villano. Family members are calling Irene a hero and are thankful she was able to hold on for so long. Crews initially found three family members dead in the river late Thursday - a couple of miles downstream from the dam. Among them, Isiah's mother and a teenage girl.

Officials said there is a dam alert sign ahead, but it doesn't point people out of the water, because it's not a restricted area. Surviving family said there was a sign, but it did not warn of the dam ahead. They said they don't want other families to go through this tragedy, and said more signage is needed in English and Spanish warning tubers about the dangers of the dam.

Meanwhile, the community is rallying to help the survivors. "It was just laid on my heart to...let's help this family as a community," Steve Baker said.

Steve Baker, of Eden, is in contact with the family through Wilson's mother. He doesn't know the family but hopes to raise $50,000 to help them with the funerals. He said the family wants to bury their loved ones together in Indiana, where many of them are from. "I'm hoping, in the end, not a penny comes out of this family's pocket. Let's see what we can do to help this family," Baker said.


Body of pregnant woman, missing since last month's Dan River tubing accident, is found, Rockingham County authorities say


Jul 6, 2021

EDEN, N.C. — The body of Teresa Villano, 35, was recovered from the Dan River on Monday afternoon, ending a 19-day search for the last of five family members to die in a dam-related tragedy here. Rockingham County Emergency Services personnel and Swift Water Rescue team members located Villano's remains at around 4:30 p.m. near the Draper Landing, an access point at N.C. 770’s crossing of the river. Villano was six months pregnant and had moved to the area in the spring to live closer to family, relatives said.

Rodney Cates, director of the county's Emergency Services Department, and Sheriff Sam Page were at Draper Landing during the recovery, a spokesman said in a news release from the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office.

Villano and eight other members of her family were tubing on June 16 and traveled over a low head dam near Duke Energy's Dan River Steam Station. “They didn’t know what it was,’' Villano's sister Angelica Villano of La Porte, Indiana, said of the 8-foot-high dam earlier this month. Instead, her family members guessed the dam's ripples were nothing more than small rapids, Villano explained, citing accounts from survivors of the ordeal.

But the dam and other low-head dams like it are considered by many national outdoors experts and engineers to be "drowning machines'' — outdated structures with current at their bases that holds deadly churning power. That hydraulic force traps swimmers beneath the water in a reverse rolling cycle and drowns them, experts said.

County river veterans and emergency workers have called the tragedy, which drew help from state and regional search and rescue teams for over two weeks, the worst such accident they can remember. Four surviving family members were rescued June 17, the day after the accident, when a Duke Energy employee saw them stranded near the utility’s steam station.

Later that day, officials said they recovered the bodies of Antonio Ramon, 30, and Bridish Crawford, 27 — both of Eden — and Sophia Wilson, 14, of La Porte, Ind., about three miles from the dam. On June 20, the body of Isaiah Crawford, 7, Bridish Crawford’s son and the family’s youngest member on the tubing trek, was recovered. Survivors said they spent more than 22 hours in the water after the accident before they were rescued. Some clung to rafts, while 18-year-old Irena Villano used a finger to cling to a crevice she found in concrete near the dam, Angelica Villano said. Other survivors include Irena Villano's brother Eric Villano, 14, of Eden, their father Ruben Villano, 35, who is the twin brother of Teresa Villano, and relative Karlos Villano, 14, of La Porte, Indiana.


Duke Energy sued by family that lost five in tubing accident

  • September 3, 2021
  • DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — A family that lost five members in a tubing accident on a North Carolina river is suing Duke Energy, saying the utility failed to adequately warn people that its dam poses life-threatening risks.

© Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this June 18, 2021 file photo, rescue personnel stage along the Dan River in Eden, N.C. A family that lost five members in a tubing accident on a North Carolina river is suing Duke Energy. Their suit filed in August accuses the utility of not doing enough to warn people that its dam poses a deadly risk. Nine relatives from Eden, North Carolina, and LaPorte, Indiana, were floating down the Dan River in inflatable tubes in June when they went over the 8-foot dam. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

Their lawsuit, filed in Durham County in August, specifically names Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC.

“Despite knowing of the danger posed by the dam, Duke Energy failed to use barricades, barriers, buoys and other safety devices to prevent boaters from going over the submerged dam and being caught in the recirculating currents,” the lawsuit says.

Duke Energy spokesman Dave Scanzoni said in a statement Friday that the utility would respond in detail in court.

Nine relatives from Eden, North Carolina, and LaPorte, Indiana, were floating down the Dan River in inflatable tubes on June 16 when they went over the 8-foot (2.4-meter) dam. The survivors were spotted the day after the accident by a Duke Energy employee, who called 911.

Emergency crews rescued Ruben Villano, 35, and his children Irene, 18; and Eric, 14, along with his nephew Karlos Villano, 14, according to the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office. All four were treated at a local hospital for their injuries. Irene Villano said at a news conference on Thursday that she used a finger and a foot to hang onto spaces in the dam and her family members hung onto her.

On the same day, rescuers found the bodies of Ruben Villano’s partner Bridish Crawford, 27; and Antonio Roman, 30, along with Sophie Wilson, 14, the sheriff’s office said. The body of Bridish Crawford’s son Isiah, 7, was found days later. Searchers found the body of Teresa Villano, 35, on July 5. News outlets reported Teresa Villano was pregnant when she drowned.

“It's kind of miserable to even be here," survivor Irene Villano told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. “You're with these people all the time, and you're always around them and then, they're just not here anymore. Sometimes, you can't even explain the feeling. It's been awful.”

Indiana-based attorney Kenneth Allen said the family wouldn't have gone tubing had they known they would come upon the dam.

“We need the owners of these dams to either eliminate them, fix them or, at the very least, protect recreational users from the deadly hazards they pose,” Allen said at the news conference.

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