Accident Database

Report ID# 3045

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Inadequate Equipment
  • Inexperience
  • High Water

Accident Description

The Falls are technically easy but are full of potholes, caves, pinning spots and other hazards. Most boaters take the run down the left side of the island and miss the Falls.

Possible drowning In Tallassee
Rescue workers scower the Tallapoosa River looking for a missing kayaker.
Posted by: Desmond Wingard
May 8, 2009
TALLASSEE, AL (WSFA) - The search for a missing kayakers has been called off for the evening, according to Matt Missildine, Tallassee's fire chief. Plans are to restart the search at day break. Authorities say the man, an unidentified 22-year-old out-of-state resident, was kayaking with a group of three people. Police believe they were thrown from their boats near the falls, though two of them were able to hang onto one of the crafts and were eventually found near the boat landing. The other kayaks were found down stream, but authorities have yet to located the third person. Investigators do not believe the missing man had on a life jacket.

A helicopter owned by the Alabama Department of Public Safety was brought in to assist in the search, but nothing was located. Divers were also unable to enter the water because of the strong currents. WSFA 12 News will have more information as soon as it comes into the newroom.

©2009 WSFA. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
from The Alabama Whitewater Message Board

Author     Message     
Posted: Fri May 08, 2009 9:27 pm Post subject: What happened on the Tallapoosa today?        
Anyone have any info? Apparently 4 people were kayaking around the falls and lost their boats. 2 were rescued but the other 2 are yet to be found. Some speculation about no life-jackets which would make me think they weren't capable boaters that would have any excuse for being on that section of river... which doesn't make the situation any better of course. Just hoping to hear that it wasn't any of my paddling friends.     
Location: Montgomery, AL
    Posted: Sat May 09, 2009 6:37 am Post subject:        
We were out there. 3 folks total, 1 called off around 7:30 last night. Apparently the guy missing is an out-of-towner. No lifejackets, no helmets. From what we gathered it was no one from the paddling community, tragic nonetheless. It seems to happen at least once a year, Andy and I were out there last year about this same time of the year when they were searching for a guy under very similar conditions.
I think when people put on they think the dangerous water is up by the turbines and do not know the seriousness of the falls on the tallapoosa.   

Joined: 11 Oct 2005
Location: Montgomery
Posted: Sun May 10, 2009 10:50 am Post subject: Tallapoosa Drowning        
I saw Tallasee police on the news last night saying something along the lines of "we need to do something about this situation, too many people are drowning." We need to keep an eye on this and make sure that they don't try and restrict boating access.

It's a tragedy, but too many folks lump all "kayakers" together and figure that if someone, no matter how ill trained, drowns then it must be unsafe.

Posted: Sun May 10, 2009 7:51 pm Post subject: Met some of the family today        
I was taking out below the falls today and met some of the family of the guy who drowned. One of them was the uncle. I guess they came down to see the place where the accident happened. They were asking about the river and how today's level compared with the day it happened. The uncle said that his nephew had no lifejacket or helmet and was in a kayak without a skirt and just didn't know what he was doing. He said that he washed below the falls on RL and was still swimming then I guess drowned trying to make shore. He was found on RL below where the sneak comes in. He said the others in the group landed in the big eddy on RR and made it out.

They were pretty upset and I told him the paddling community is very sorry to hear about their loss. I said that better signage was needed while maintaining access and they told me they have been talking with the mayor and new signs are being printed now.

I have no idea what the signs will say, but warning of a dangerous rapid DOWNSTREAM might be a good idea. AW might know what a new sign should say.   
Joined: 16 Jan 2006
Posted: Mon May 11, 2009 10:02 am Post subject:        
i was asked to sit in with the local radio station this morning and there are lots of questions from posting signs to closing that section of the river to all boaters. i stressed that closing the river will not stop people from paddling the river. most of the drownings on the tallapoosa have been swimmers or fishers.

the only thing that is consistent in this accident is that no one was wearing pfd's or helments. they are also being referred to as "kayakers" and being lumped in with the responsible boaters who enjoy the tallapoosa safely.

i plan to talk to the mayor today before i head back to NC and find out what their plans are and i encourage everyone from the coosa, b'ham and huntsville clubs to think about what they can do to make people more aware of the dangers and to also give their input to mayor mccain and the city officials. they are willing to listen because they are going to build a park along the river near the falls. this could be a bigger problem for boaters because of it looking easy to non-boaters.

it's always sad to see anyone lose thier life boating, no matter their skill level. hope we can keep these river open and safe.   

Location: Montgomery
    Posted: Mon May 11, 2009 10:40 am Post subject: Tallapoosa Access        
Please let me know (post here or PM) when there are meetings, etc. I'd like to participate to ensure continued boater access.  As for signs, the NPS signs on the Chattooga are excellent. If you've seen the sign explaining Woodall Shoals it explains that many people have died there, that it is much worse than it looks, and that you should not attempt to run it unless you are an expert boater. A similar detailed sign is probably what we need on the Tallapoosa.

Let's make sure that Tallasee doesn't overreact to this tragedy and limit access by responsible boaters.


Location: wesser nc
    Posted: Mon May 11, 2009 2:18 pm Post subject:        
my goal is to preserve access and safety at the same time. when i get back tomorrow i am going to talk to wayner and bob hathcox for their input and maybe American Whitewater will step up too. i also plan to get a call in to lonnie C. because any bad publicity can hurt the perception of the Coosa as well.I seldom paddle any more but i don't want to see access restricted because of knee jerk reactions.   

David Enoch
staff writer
Published: May 16, 2009

As strong as he was, Walker Taylor couldn’t beat the Tallapoosa. The 22-year-old Auburn forestry student died May 8 after his kayak overturned on the river below Thurlow Dam near Tallassee.

Walker’s death was the fourth in the last four years on the river, according to Tallassee Volunteer Fire Department Lt. John Rogers. For local kayakers and emergency responders, the death is an unfortunate reminder of the dangers along the popular stretch of local water. “The big thing down there was and always and continues to be PFDs, life jackets,” Rogers said. “He didn’t have a life jacket.”

The stretch of river along Alabama Highway 229 attracts swimmers, boaters and anglers. Tangles of monofilament hang in the brush near the boat ramps. Foot trails snake along the bank across rocks carpeted in Kudzu and poison Ivy. The signs warning of dangerous water below the dam are impossible to miss. “They either don’t know how dangerous it is or under estimate it,” Tallasee Volunteer Fire Department Chief Matt Missildine said.

The department added two warning signs recently and more are planned for both public boat ramps along the river in the next two weeks. The department plans to add sirens by the first of July, Missildine said. River conditions below the Alabama Power dam depend on the flow, Rogers said. When the turbines are generating power, the flow increases, he said. But that’s part of the appeal for white-water kayakers like John Owen, 31, of Prattville, and Andrew Hobson, a 21-year-old Auburn University Montgomery junior.

The two paddle the river a few times a week and agree it’s no place for novices. “We don’t hesitate to harass each other (about safety), Owen said. “At all levels, these (rapids) are dangerous,” Hobson said. “You’ve got to know what you are doing.”

Greg Lang, manager of Southern Trails in Auburn and a 20-year white-water kayaker, said there’s been a lot of speculation at the store about the accident. As an instructor, Lang said he tries to emphasize self-reliance in a sport full of freedom. “If something goes wrong, it’s up to you to take care of yourself,” he said.

Tom Sherburne, a fellow instructor who tried out for the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic teams, said experience is needed to safely travel the Tallapoosa below the dam.

The run, a challenging Class III-IV, is short — taking about 12 minutes to cover two miles. It’s a complex environment almost a football field wide. Making speedy exits is difficult. “At a certain point, you’re going to go over the falls,” said Sherburne, owner of Shred Ready Inc., a kayaking equipment business based in Auburn. “It looks like a lot of fun, but its not an amusement park.”

For Taylor and his friends, “a lot of little mistakes added up,” Lang said. For starters, Lang said the group lacked white-water kayaks, life jackets and helmets. “The boats are specific for what they do,” he said. “They were in rec boats paddling white water.” There are recreational kayaks, sea kayaks and white-water boats, Lang said. Each is designed for different bodies of water. White-water kayaks are more agile and meant for navigating turbulent water.

White-water kayakers also need Type III life jackets, helmets, paddles and spray skirts, Lang said. All the gear costs about $1,500.

Like the boats, kayak life jackets are purpose-built. “Buying one that fits, goes a long way,” Lang said. More importantly, boaters have to wear their life jackets, he said. “I literally put it on and take it off at the car,” he said.

Inevitably, kayakers will come out of their boats. “If you get dumped out, put your feet down stream and keep your head up and let the current take you where it will,” Rogers said. “Don’t fight the river.”

It’s called eddying out. Boaters should find an eddy, a spot behind an obstacle like a rock or log on the river where the water is calmer, and make their exit there, Rogers said. “You’re not going to beat the river,” Rogers said.

Foot entrapments, where one or both of a boater’s feet get caught in the river bed, are a common fatal situation on the water, Lang said. “More than likely, he got his foot hung.” Lang said of Taylor. “You need to keep your feet up. It’s the basic rules of white water.”

Another tenet of the sport is scouting the conditions before a run. Things change. Sherburne said it’s important for kayakers to identify the path they want to take. "You’ve got to know where you’re going,” Sherburne said. “You are going to have to learn respect for the river,” Lang said. “It’s just a question of where you learn it.”


Water levels were high. The body was found on Sunday, two days later.

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