Accident Database

Report ID# 35826

  • Other
  • Asthma Attack
  • Extreme Weather
  • High Water

Accident Description

Eric Winiarski Media blew this up. I talked to a wra guide most of the missing just missed take out. But all accounted for. They already have regulations on big signs of every put in and take out. And all the companies must follow them. Accidents happen.

John McClanahan Sure, unexpected rise in water conditions can occur, but if you have an insufficient number of "guides", particularly "guides" who are not trained well, then things can go sideways pretty quick. The trip was supposed to go from put-in at Jim Thorpe to take-out at Dunbar's at Lehighton. Many rafts blew past the take-out, with at least one going all the way to WEISSPORT before being able to beach. Empty raft found at Bowmanstown was the impetus for the emergency response. WRA was unable to account for all their guests, so the situation had to be treated as a possible MCI. This occurred outside of the Lehigh Gorge State Park, so the DCNR regs for rafting outfitters did not apply. I had a trip on that same section Sunday, 8/5, when the flow at Lehighton was @3500 CFS, and we had one raft blow the lunch-stop at Dunbar's. I'm guessing that they had five (or fewer) guides for their trip of almost 200 guests, and probably 25+ rafts.

The customers were girls from an Orthodox Jewish camp. There are cultural, and frankly, language, difficulties when guiding these groups. It also doesn't help that the girls are dressed conservatively (long skirts). John McClanahan These "camp" trips are big business for all the outfitters on the Lehigh. And these customers can be very demanding, threatening to pull their business, if their trips are cancelled/ postponed. Since they like to be apart from other non-Jewish rafters,they schedule trips for mid-week, when outfitters are trying hard to fill seats on trips. I know of at least one outfitter that recently cancelled a large "camp" trip, due to high water conditions. That "camp" group then tried every other outfitter to rebook their trip, instead of rescheduling. I have unconfirmed reports that the 200 customers were accompanied by only five guides, all of whom were in kayaks. At a max of eight customers per raft, there were at least 25 rafts in this trip. 


Lehigh River rescuers search for 145 rafters; all appear to be OK on land.

Water rescue crews are searching the rain-swollen Lehigh River on Monday evening, Aug. 13, 2018, after reports of missing rafters. 

by Frank Warner, The Morning Call, Allentown, PA 

Water rescue crews from Lehigh and Northampton counties were dispatched Monday evening to the rain-swollen Lehigh River after Lehighton officials reported as many as 145 rafters were unaccounted for.

Three hours later, Carbon County 911 Director Gary Williams said emergency officials are fairly confident everyone who made the raft trip is alive and well. “It sounds like they’re kind of wrapping it [the search] up right now,” Williams said at 9:45 p.m. “They seem to be happy with the numbers, or else they’d still be out there. The people on the scene are talking to the rafting company.”

Whitewater Rafting Adventures of Nesquehoning arranged the trip for a camping group from New York state, he said, adding that he believed the rafters were on their way home in buses.

The confusion and more than a little panic began about 6:40 p.m. when someone discovered an empty raft at Bowmanstown and reported a person might be missing.

Officials talked with Whitewater Rafting and found it had sent 200 rafters downstream from Jim Thorpe, and knew at least 55 rafters were safe and out of the water. But the company had no reliable information on where the other 145 rafters were.

“They said 200 rafters had gone out and only had 55 had returned,” a Carbon County dispatcher said about 8 p.m. “We’re trying to account for 150. So it’s a big thing happening right now. We’re trying to account for everybody.”

Rescue boats went up and down the river searching the water, islands and river banks for rafters who might need help. The hunt extended from a bridge in Jim Thorpe southward to the Route 873 bridge near Walnutport.

Boats were preparing to go out again as darkness set in at 8:45 p.m. when another emergency official said there were indications that most, if not all, of the rafters soon would be confirmed safe.

“It sounds like they’re [the rafters are] not in the water,” the dispatcher said. “So far, that’s what it looks like. But it’s a mess.” The rafting company could not be reached for comment.

The rafters took the trip on a day that featured an unusual number of strong thunderstorms. The river current was heavy, adding to emergency workers’ concerns.

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