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Accident Description

Greg Vaughan to Arkansas Pictures

I went to Saddler Falls this morning and talked to the owner of the house directly in front of the sinkhole on the Spring River. He told me that it comes out about 30 ft down river and that the Arkansas Fish and Game official he talked to said they are considering using dynamite to close it up. He was kind enough to let me fly the drone from his back deck and get this footage of Mother Nature at work.


Kayaker was saving addicts’ lives for years before dying in whirlpool rescue attempt

Wes Johnson, News-Leader

Published June 12, 2018

For the past two years, Donald Wright had been rescuing addiction-shattered lives through his Life Recovery Center in Searcy, Arkansas. His daughter, Selah Neal, said her dad used the power of positive reinforcement and God's strong message to steer addicts toward self-salvation.

"He taught them how to get through life and be the person God designed them to be while they were getting through their addiction," Neal said. "Two weeks ago he planned a float trip on the Spring River to reward them for their good choices."

On Saturday, Wright, 64, took a group of about 20 from his Life Recovery Center down the Spring River, where fresh air, exercise and sunshine would help them deal with their troubles.

But when two of those men got swept into a whirlpool caused by a rock collapse in the river, Neal said she was not surprised that her dad raced in his kayak to try to save them. 

Their canoe capsized, pitching both men into the whirling water. "One of them went through the whirlpool and came out the other end of the sinkhole," Neal said. "My dad, he got caught in the whirlpool and overturned and couldn't get back up. We now know that he got hit in the head by the canoe and that's what killed him."

Paddler Doug Grey managed to swim to shore. James Hisel, the other man in the canoe who was swept through the whirlpool, was med-flighted to a hospital but was later released, Neal said. Neal said her dad "was a very godly man" who wouldn't hesitate to try to help anyone in trouble.

"It wouldn't have made a difference if they were his guys or not," Neal said.  "He'd scoop them up with his wide arms."

Wright's funeral will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at The Other Side, 3390 Highway 36 in Searcy. It is open to the public. Neal said visitors are encouraged to wear tie-dyed clothing in honor of her dad. Because her father loved to ride motorcycles, Neal said a memorial ride for anyone with a motorcycle will take place after the service and conclude at Wright's home, where balloons will be released in his memory. 

The section of the river is marked off by tape, with a hazard buoy warning people to steer clear of the dangerous whirlpool. Paddlers can still get around the hazard. 


Arkansas man dies after an underwater sinkhole creates dangerous whirlpool


By Lindsey Bever

Washington Post

June 11, 2018

Arkansas wildlife officials are urging boaters to avoid a section of a river in the northern part of the state after a sinkhole opened up and created a dangerous whirlpool that led to a man’s death.  Officials with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission confirmed in a statement that a man was killed Saturday afternoon in “a fatal boating accident” when the sinkhole opened up near the Spring River’s Sadler Falls near Dead Man’s Curve. The 57-mile-long river, which runs through Arkansas and Missouri, is known for water sports, such as canoeing, kayaking and rafting, and fishing.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Trey Reid said Monday that the victim has been identified as Donald Wright, 64, from Searcy, Ark. Though the details remain unclear, Reid said witnesses reported that when the sinkhole opened and formed the whirlpool, boaters were ejected from their boats. The victim, who was in a kayak, paddled toward the whirlpool to try to help them.

Officials said the sinkhole opened up in the river bed near Sadler Falls, which is about 150 miles northeast of Little Rock. The U.S. Geological Survey states that sinkholes occur when groundwater dissolves bedrock — such as carbonate rock, limestone or salt beds — creating open spaces underground. When the ground can no longer support itself, it collapses, creating a depression — or a sinkhole, according to the USGS. When this happens underwater, it can create circular currents, such as whirlpools. Reid, from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said that in such cases when the riverbed breaks away, the water must go somewhere and, in the process, creates a current “like a bathtub drain.” Video showed a flip-flop, a plastic water bottle and other debris swirling around it.

Workers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Fulton County installed buoys Saturday to secure the area around the whirlpool, according to the statement from the commission.

The commission said that local residents and tourists can still access Spring River but should avoid the barricaded area. 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Laurie Driver said in a statement Monday that the agency is working with the county to help find a solution.

“We are assisting the county by providing contact information for agencies which may be able to assist with the sinkhole on the Spring River,” it read. “Our Regulatory Division will reach out to the county to provide information on the permitting requirements which may be needed in conjunction with any repair”


Kayaker who died was trying to help 2 others caught near Spring River sinkhole whirlpool


Wes Johnson, News-Leader

June 11, 2018

The sinkhole in the Spring River in northeast Arkansas created a whirlpool that claimed the life of a paddler Saturday. 

Arkansas officials are meeting today to decide what to do about a large sinkhole that opened in the bottom of the Spring River and killed a kayak paddler on Saturday.

A spokesman for Arkansas Fish and Game Commission said the kayaker, Donald Wright, 64, of Searcy, Arkansas,  was trying to help two other paddlers who were caught in the whirlpool.

"He was trying to get to them to help right at the top of the falls," said AGFC spokesman Keith Stephens.  "One of the others was injured and was med-flighted out. The other individual was able to swim to shore."

Stephens said he didn't know the condition of the paddler who was flown out of the area.

The sinkhole created a large whirlpool on the river, just below Saddler Falls near Dead Man's Curve, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Fulton County, along with the AGFC, have installed buoys and roped off the area where the whirlpool is located. Stephens said the river is passable, but warned paddlers or swimmers not to cross the barriers marking the dangerous sinkhole.

Engineers will be on site this week to assess the area and look for a solution. Stephens said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make the decision about what — if anything — to do with the sinkhole. 


Spring Creek in AR:

Joe Branch shared a post. 

Selah Shanae Neal

June 9 at 9:25pm

My dad drowned today while floating the spring river in a kayak. He got pulled into a sinkhole where his kayak flipped and he couldn't get out from under it. We're at the beginning of summer, please let this serve as a reminder to all on the water that anything can happen at any time. Say I Love You to those going on the water! And please keep our family in your prayers! I LOVE YOU DAD!!!! UNTIL WE SEE YOU AGAIN!!!!!! Donny Wright


Spring River sinkhole repaired

HARDY – A sinkhole that opened in the Spring River last month has been closed, Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston announced today. The Commissioner of State Lands office, alongside the Attorney General’s office, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Geological Survey, the Arkansas Department of Transportation, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Fulton County Sheriff Albert Roork and Fulton County Judge Darrell Zimmer, as well as local landowners and volunteers, completed work Thursday repairing the sinkhole, located south of Mammoth Spring. 

The team of officials used a track hoe to collapse the travertine roof of the sinkhole. The structure fell into itself, resolving the water hazard that had been created by erosion and claimed the life of one person in early June. 

State, federal and local officials had met in June to discuss the hazard and to determine how to correct the problem and ensure public safety. They enlisted the help of hydrogeologist Tom Aley, PG with Ozark Underground Laboratory in Potem, Missouri. After visiting the site, where Aley conducted a survey of the area with a dye tracing technique to determine the characteristics of the hazard, the agencies began examining potential fixes. 

Thurston extended thanks to all of the agencies and individuals involved in the project. He acknowledged additional assistance from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Sen. Missy Irvin, as well as the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for expediting permits for the work. “Without the tireless work of many people, we would not have completed this project in a timely manner,” he said. “Each agency, official and volunteer has given a great amount of time to put together the plan and act upon it before anyone else was injured.”