The drop in question is a ledge that used to have a low head dam built on top of it. The dam washed away probably 30 years ago. The remaining natural drop is runnable by someone who knows what they are doing but not really worth the effort, since at most levels the hole at the bottom is pretty munchy, and it's nothing but flat water above and below. I know a few guys who will surf it at high water, but it takes some big cojones to do that.
In a recent print version of AW's magazine, a drowning on the Hocking River here in Athens, OH at White's Mill is listed as a low head dam fatality. It was not. The mill still exists, but there has not been a dam at that location for 30+ years - it's just a natural ledge that develops a munchy hole and some serious funny water in the runout when the water is up. The more accurate cause of that death was failure to wear a PFD.
Heroics on the Hocking
Police officers, victim fought to save a young boy
By Dennis E. Powell, Staff
Jul 12, 2017
Last Saturday started out calm in Athens. Warm and sunny, the humidity seemed to have blown away with the strong storms of the night before.
Athens Police officer Justin Boggs was on patrol, accompanied by a new member of the department not long out of the academy. They had been on duty since 7 a.m., working a 16-hour shift ending at 11 that night. There was no reason to think it would be anything other than a long, slow tour of duty – until they received a call a little after 2 p.m.
“We’d just turned from West Union down Herrold (Ave.) when the call came in,” said Boggs, who has been with the APD for a year and a half and was with the Ohio University Police Department for several years before that. “The call came in as kayakers in the (Hocking River) needing help getting out. We went to the Habitat house (on West Union just down from White’s Mill), where we got out and could see four individuals in the water.”
An extended family group had decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day by paddling kayaks on the Hocking River in western Athens, swollen and fast from the previous night’s storm. Rounding the bend above White’s Mill, watery terror faced them. Some of the group managed to reach shore, but several weren’t able to escape the roiling water at a drop-off where decades ago a dam had powered the mill.
According to officer Boggs, four people – Steve Lippson, 40, of Racine in Meigs County, his sister and brother-in-law, and Lippson’s young son – were now caught in the churning blender of muddy water immediately below the remains of the dam.
“Mr. Lippson was holding his son up out of the water midway out into the river,” Boggs said. “We saw him keep going under. There was no way to get down on the shore on (the north) side. So we got back into our car and moved over to White’s Mill. We made our way on the path down to the shore.”
Lippson’s brother-in-law had made it close to the shore, according to Boggs. “Mr. Lippson’s sister was upstream, closer to the falls, 20 or 30 feet out into the water. Where we had seen Mr. Lippson, his son was out in the middle of the river, right at the end of the rough water. We could no longer see Mr. Lippson. The man who was close to shore told us he had gone under and hadn’t come back up.”
At about this time, Lt. Nick Magruder, a seven-year APD veteran whose 12-hour shift had begun at 11 a.m., arrived. “I dropped my gunbelt, dropped it there on the bank,” said Boggs. “Mr. Lippson’s sister had swum out and gotten the little boy, his son, and I swam out to the log, which wasn’t nearly as far out, and she was able to bring the son back to the log. That’s when I took him from her and swam in towards the bank.
“Lt. Magruder threw a catch pole out, that we use on animals, and he was able to pull us back in.” Magruder was in the water, but not in the eddy where the large floating log had been slowly spinning for hours or days – it would be there until dragged away by a boat from the Athens Fire Department the next day. The current was fierce, especially near the dam and in the eddies.
“I didn’t go too far out at all, Mr. Lippson’s sister is the one who did most of the work,” said Boggs, who sat down with Magruder for an interview late Monday night. “I just swam out to the first log, and she brought him to me, and I just had to get him ashore, and Lt. Magruder threw the catch pole out to me.”
Magruder spoke as if he thought Boggs was being too modest. “He was in water up to his chest, up to his neck – he wasn’t able to touch bottom at most points,” Magruder recalled. “I was trying to get around to where I could get a good angle on them in the water. There was a log that was going out, and I tried to get out on that to get the catch-pole to them, but I ended up having to get in the water with them and helping to get the child out of the water.
“But Justin (Boggs) went above and beyond. He went far out and really helped that lady. At that point she was pretty exhausted, and so was the man who was on the shore already – he said he was pretty beat up from just being in that water.” The woman was Lippson’s sister; the man, her husband.
Witnesses spoke in admiring tones later as they described the arrival of Boggs and Magruder.
“They didn’t hesitate for an instant,” said Jesse Dexter, who had been at a family celebration nearby when shouts and the screams of children drew them to the overlook at Habitat for Humanity House on West Union Street, the place where Boggs and the probationary officer had first surveyed the situation. “They didn’t slow down or take off their gunbelts or anything – they just went in after the little boy.”
Boggs and Magruder had in fact taken off their belts – besides holding a gun in its holster, police belts carry a lot of other equipment, and entering the water while wearing one would be like diving in tied to an anchor. But it’s true, Boggs and Magruder said, that there was no time to think it over before plunging into the fast-moving water.
“Once we got down to the bank, Lt. Magruder and me, we heard Mr. Lippson’s son scream, so we knew we were going to do what we had to do to get to him,” said Boggs before adding a detail that makes the story even more remarkable. “I just learned to swim last month on vacation,” he said. “So I’m not too good in water to begin with, and I can’t tread water. I saw that log and I knew I had to get there, because if I stop I’m in trouble. Once I got there, the current was still kind of pushing me and laying me flat. But I was able to make it to where I needed to be.”
Everyone in the water at that point was wearing a vest – the little boy and his aunt were wearing flotation vests, while the police officers were wearing their tactical protective vests. “I didn’t take my vest off,” said Boggs, “which was a mistake on my part because it’s extra weight.”
“It was pretty stressful, seeing him in the water,” said Magruder. “I only had to get in about thigh-deep, but it was still stressful for everyone.”
The new officer who had been riding with Boggs did her part, too. She took care of Boggs and Magruder’s gunbelts and relayed information to other officers and agencies. “At one point I yelled to her to request OU to get down on Richland Avenue in case anybody were seen heading down the river,” said Boggs. They had no idea how many people were involved or how many might be missing. “She was essentially our communications.”
“It was an eye opener for her, how fast it happened, how quick decisions have to be made, how you don’t have a lot of time to think about things,” said Magruder.
How quickly did it all unfold? “We were at Habitat for about 30 seconds, then we went around to White’s Mill, and from the time we got out of the car to the time we got into the water, less than a minute,” said Boggs. “At that point Mr. Lippson was already under water. We could see him when we were at Habitat House, and by the time we got to White’s Mill he was already under.
“We kept seeing him holding his son up when we were at Habitat House, and he kept going – we could see his head going under.”
Once everyone who could be rescued had been, a sad scene unfolded on the shore below the mill. “The little boy was bleeding a very small amount on his lip,” said Boggs. “I think he just bit it. I don’t think it really hit him what was going on. The sister and brother-in-law were well aware of the seriousness of it.” “They were pretty exhausted, too,” said Magruder.
As reported elsewhere, after a three-day search the body of Steve Lippson was recovered 200 yards downriver Tuesday morning. His young son will grow up without a father, but perhaps will one day know that his dad died to save him, his aunt risked her life to take up the struggle where his father left off, and two Athens Police officers risked their lives to see him finally to safety. It was a tragedy, but it had its share of heroism, too.
Update, 11 p.m. Saturday: According to a release from Athens County EMA, the Athens Fire Department has suspended its search and rescue operations for a missing kayaker at approximately 9:15 p.m. Saturday evening.
"Recovery operations will continue once the Hocking River water levels lower to safer levels," the release reads. "The Hocking River has been swollen by recent heavy rainfall in the region. The investigation and recovery operation has been transferred to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources."
Details as of 8 p.m. Saturday are below.
As of 8 p.m., the Athens Fire Department and other agencies continued searching for a kayaker who went missing after being swept over the waterfall on the Hocking River at White's Mill on Athens' far West Side.
According to a release from the Athens County EMA, at around 2 p.m. Saturday six people on kayaks were swept over the falls, and five of them were either rescued by emergency responders or got out of the water on their own.
"Currently one (1) kayaker is still missing," the release, which was sent at 5:35 p.m., stated. At 8 p.m., authorities were still searching the waters below the small dam without success.
"The Athens Fire Department has started a search operation for the missing kayaker and is being aided by multiple regional emergency agencies in the operation," the earlier release stated. "Additional information will be released as it becomes available."
The group initially had 12 kayakers who were above the falls area (six made it to the banks of the river safely to avoid being swept over). The Athens Fire Department and the Athens Police Department were alerted to the incident at 2:07 p.m., the release stated.
White's Mill posted a status update on Facebook about how dangerous the area is around the falls around 3 p.m. Saturday, but did not directly reference the kayakers.
"Please share far and wide," the business wrote. "White's Mill falls are very dangerous to go over, in any craft or whatever skill level you may be, it will swallow you. Please for your own safety, stay off the falls. Thank you."
Recent heavy rains also contributed to the river having a stronger current than usual.
Authorities had set up a staging area on the south side of the river, right below White's Mill, and were still searching as of 8 p.m.
By WTAP, Phyllis Smith |
Posted: Mon 5:00 PM, Jul 10, 2017 |
ATHENS, Ohio (WTAP) - Dive teams are still searching for missing kayaker Steve Lippson. It's been two and a half days since he was last seen on the Hocking River in Athens, Ohio.
Officials say the 40-year-old man from Meigs County was swept of Whites Mill waterfall. Due to heavy rains Friday, the river swelled by about four feet. Officials say this might have played a role, since Lipson was an experienced kayaker.
"This river here is normally low throughout the city. We do have the dam to deal with, whether it's low water or high water. You can see it's pretty low right now. It still has quite a bit of rapids going over the dam, so naturally, the current is going to change," said Chief Robert Rymer, Athens Fire Department.
The other five kayakers he was with were rescued. He has been missing since about 2 p.m. Saturday.
Boats are running sonar to try to find him and cadaver dogs are on scene.
The search continues for a missing kayaker in Athens County.
Search and recovery efforts resumed on the Hocking River in Athens around 8 a.m. Sunday.
Steve Lippson, 40, of Racine, Ohio, has been missing since 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Six kayakers were swept over the Whites Mill water fall in the Hocking River on Saturday. Five of them were either rescued by emergency responders or got out themselves.
Lippson did not make it out.
The investigation and recovery operation has been transferred to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Athens Fire Department and Wellston Fire Department are assisting with the operation.
Body of missing kayaker found downriver from White's Mill
At sunset Monday night, search efforts were concentrated right below the former dam at White's Mill. The body of Steve Lippson of Racine was found the following morning about 200 yards downstream. Heavy rains Monday night had once again raised the level and speed of the river.
The body of a Meigs County man was found at approximately 6:40 this morning about 200 yards downstream of the Hocking River falls at White's Mill on Athens' West Side. The body was recovered from the water shortly thereafter.
Steve Lippson, 40, of Racine, Ohio, had been kayaking with an extended family group on the Hocking River Saturday when he and several others were swept over the short but powerful waterfall near White’s Mill. All but Lippson made it to the shore, some with the help of first responders, and a search of the river for Lippson took place from Saturday to early morning Tuesday.
Lippson's body was discovered by an OhioHealth O'Bleness Hospital employee, according to a news release from the Athens County Emergency Management Agency.
"Mr. Lippson’s body was recovered at 7:30 a.m. by the Athens Fire Department, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Athens Police Department, and the Athens County Coroner’s Office," the release said.
An earlier release from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported that the incident was still under investigation, and the cause of death was pending an autopsy by the coroner.
Stephanie Leis, a spokesperson with ODNR, said Tuesday that Lippson had been out on the water with "family and friends," and said that they had launched their kayaks at the "West State Canoe Portage" on the Hocking River (presumably the portage located at West State Street Park).
"Warning signs are visible from the West State Canoe Portage location," Leis confirmed. "There are two large road signs located on the railroad bridge trestle located 20 feet above the water’s edge. The top sign says 'DANGER WATERFALL 900 FEET AHEAD,' and the bottom sign says 'EXIT RIVER NOW' with an arrow pointing back to the canoe portage location."
Lippson had been an employee at Hi-Vac Corporation, located in Marietta, Ohio, for several years. An HR representative provided the following statement early Tuesday afternoon:
"All of us at Hi-Vac Corporation are shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the tragic lose of our employee and coworker Steve Lippson. He’s been an employee of Hi-Vac for several years and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Steve’s family and friends at this most difficult time."
The Athens County EMA release offered condolences to Lippson's family from various local agencies.
"The Athens Fire Department and all agencies involved in this incident would like to extend their deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr. Lippson for the loss of their loved one," the EMA release reads.
We'll update this story as we know more. Look for additional coverage in Thursday's print edition.book