Accident Database

Report ID# 2366

  • Other
  • Other
  • Inexperience
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

 Rescue Squad saves stranded canoers
By John Carpenter Rea County Herald-News, Dayton, TN

May 14, 2007 RheaCounty Rescue Squads Swift Water Rescue Team makes its way across a swollen Whites Creek to an island in the stream. From there they were able to pluck three Rockwood teens who were stranded on an islet after their canoe capsized. Members of the Rhea County Rescue Squad plucked three Rockwood teenagers from a rain-swollen Whites Creek Saturday evening after their canoe overturned.

Justin Disney, 17, Shane Terry, 16, Chris LaPerriere, 16, and Andrew Ladd, 17, all of Rockwood, decided to go canoeing on Whites Creek, which divides Rhea and Roane counties, Saturday afternoon. The boys borrowed the canoe and didnt appear to have much experience, according to Captain Doug Reed of the Rhea County Rescue Squad, unit 500, although they did wear life jackets. The boys put their canoe in the water at White's Creek Bridge on Rhea County Highway at about 2 p.m. but almost immediately ran into trouble. Equipped with only one paddle, the boys only made it about 100 yards downstream before their canoe overturned, dumping them into the swift current.

The spot where the four boys put the canoe in the water is not far from where seven Rockwood Boy Scouts and their scoutmaster lost their lives in 1929 when floodwaters swept away their campsite. A stone memorial now marks the site.

Ladd was able to swim to the bank on the Roane County side, but his three friends were swept downstream about 400 yards where they were able to scramble ashore on a tiny islet in the flooded stream. Ladd was able to call for 911 for help from the safety of the shore. The Rhea County Rescue Squad was notified at 3:15 p.m., and its first units were on the scene 20 minutes later.

After Hurricane Ivan caught the rescue squad less than prepared in 2004, Reed and others decided to form a swift water rescue team to cope with just this sort of emergency. In all, 21 members of the Rhea County Rescue Squad responded. They were assisted by the Roane County Rescue Squad and later by Knox County's swift water rescue team. From the Roane County side of the creek, Jay Martin with the Rhea County Rescue Squad attempted to cross in a kayak to a large island above the boys. The strong current carried him downstream before he could reach the island, about 210 feet away, and he was forced to return to shore and start over again. A second attempt ended in the same result. On his third attempt, Martin was able to grab a bush at the waters edge and pull his kayak up on shore, although he lost his paddle in the attempt.

Using the light rescue line he brought with him, Martin pulled across a much heavier ferry line. Using the ferry line, rescue squad members were able to pull themselves to the larger island in their swift water raft. Reed, Martin, Jim Bolen, Jay Wright, Benny Braden, all with the Rhea County Rescue Squad, and one member of the Roane County Rescue Squad crossed to the larger island. From there they were about 90 feet above the islet where the three boys were stranded, Reed said.

It was a very dangerous situation, Reed said. It was a very fine line; we almost decided to leave them until the next day when the water would go down. It was dangerous, fast-moving water filled with strainers. If we had gotten in the water, we would have been killed.? The rescuers needed to stay above the water, and the situation called for a line gun capable of launching a line to the islet that the boys could then secure to a tree, but neither rescue squad at the scene has one due to the cost. The Knox County squad has a line gun and was called to the scene, but Reed decided not to wait on them in the fast-fading light. Martin, who had gotten another paddle, went back into his kayak. Reed said he gave him just one chance to reach the islet. After about 15 minutes, Martin was able to reach the islet and the boys. He tied a large rope about eight feet up a tree on the islet, and Wright was able to crawl across the line to complete rigging ropes for the rescue. When everything was set, the three boys, Wright, Martin and his kayak were hauled across in a harness, above the water. The rescue was completed in total darkness, Reed said. They then made their way back across the creek to the bank using the rescue raft and ferry line. Anxious family members greeted the boys with tears of joy and relief. After paramedics with Rhea Emergency Medical Service checked them out and pronounced them free from injury, the boys went home with their parents.

We train regularly for this type of rescue weve already trained four or five times this year but this was our first true rescue,Reed said. Im very proud of our people and how they responded. We are very thankful everything turned out all right.?

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