Accident Database

Report ID# 359

  • Flush Drowning
  • Other
  • Inexperience

Accident Description

An unidentified 9-year-old boy was uninjured after being rescued from a near drowning by two customers of a riverside restaurant. The incident occurred on Georgia's Chestatee River on June 26, following three days of fairly consistent in an otherwise dry late spring and summer. The water level was high enough that the Oar House, a riverside restaurant, had closed its riverside deck as a safety precaution.

The boy and his two older siblings apparently put into the fast-moving river just upriver of the Highway 52 bridge. Diners and employees at the Oar House restaurant just downstream of the bridge heard screams they intitally take for sounds of excitement. Two, however, a 50-year-old former Army Ranger and a 24-year-old graduate student at North Georgia College & State University in nearby Dahlonega, soon realized the cries were of panic. The child had been tubing with his two siblings when they were carried downriver by the current. The older children were able to exit the river but the youngest child was swept downriver, past the Oar House.

After making eye contact with the boy, who was fortunately wearing a PFD, the older rescuer, Mark Pickens, dove into the fast-moving river. The child had managed to grab a branch hanging from one of the many trees on the river's banks, giving Mr. Pickens time to swim across the river to him. Mr. Pickens then grabbed the tree with the child hanging from his neck. As the branch supporting Mr. Pickens and boy began to break, the younger rescuer, Drew Bickers, grabbed a stronger tree and extended his legs to them. He then pulled himself, Mr. Pickens and boy to the bank. The child was uninjured and able to rejoin his family. Both brave rescuers returned - soaking wet - to their tables at the Oar House.


July 5, 2006

by: Matt Aiken A quiet riverside meal ended in the dramatic water rescue of a panicked 9-year-old by two fast-acting restaurant patrons last week, one of whom had initially planned to order take-out. However, as new Dahlonega resident Mark Pickens and his wife decided to dine-in at The Oar House last Monday their attention was continually drawn to the swiftness of the nearby rushing waters of the Chestatee River. "We were noting how high the water was with all the debris heading downstream," said Pickens. In fact, following three days of consistent rain, the management at The Oar House decided to close the restaurant's riverside deck to all customers. "We didn't have anyone out there because the river was so high," said manager Judy Shubert.

Yet before the former Army Ranger and his wife had a chance to peruse the menu, the scream of frightened children reached the upstairs deck. Initially, most diners dismissed the cries as the happy sounds of child's play. But seconds later, a definitive scream for help pierced the air. Heads turned throughout the open-air restaurant while Pickens and fellow customer Drew Bickers rose from their tables. ?When I heard it the second time I knew it was one of those screams of uncontrollable fear,? recalled Pickens, who quickly took off toward the river.

Bickers, a 24-year-old North Georgia College & State University graduate who had been enjoying his sirloin steak with his girlfriend, followed closely behind as he sprinted for the river while ripping off his shirt and tossing his wallet and keys on the ground. At the same time a quick-thinking waitress rushed to the phone and dialed 9-1-1. As a result, at exactly 7:30 p.m. a call came in at Lumpkin County 9-1-1 of a possible drowning on the Chestatee. It was soon determined that the screams of panic had originated from a trio of local children who had unwisely decided to test the turbulent Chestatee waters in their inner tubes. Though they were all wearing life jackets, the stiff current quickly knocked them from their floats. As the two oldest boys found a way to clamor onto shore, the youngest was swept downstream, away from his horror-stricken mother who had been watching from the banks, and past his would-be rescuers.

At that moment, as Pickens stood on river's edge, he said there was a split-second when he locked eyes with the panicked boy. ?The look in his eyes told me he was going to be a dead person if I didn't get him out of the water,? he recalled. Indeed the child's fears were not unfounded. The river was about to take a sharp right under Georgia Highway 52 and then close itself off to easy access for a considerable distance. According to Pickens the child appeared to have succumbed to the motions of panicked swimmer. However, he had managed to acquire a precarious grip on an overhanging tree. So acting on instinct, the 50-year-old sprinted upstream and ahead of the screaming child. He then jumped into the rushing water and swam across the river, timing his arrival so that he would be within reach of the child.

The tactic worked. Pickens grabbed onto the tree and the boy clung to his back. Now, however, the rescuer found himself in need of rescuing. Pickens' only route to safety was to pull himself and the child hand-over-hand up a rickety branch. And as he held firmly to the boy, the waterlogged tree began to creak and crack, leaving Pickens with the grim possibility of heading downstream with a panicked child on his back. ?He was running out of options,? said Bicker. ?And that's when I came along at the right time.? It was then that Bickers' yell was heard over the rapids. Holding fast to a nearby upstream tree, Bickers extended his body into the current so that Pickens could grab onto his outstretched leg. ?I got him just as he lost his grip on the branch,? recalled Bickers, an avid fisherman who was already familiar with the local waters.

With the ex-Ranger and small boy clinging to his legs, Bickers used his upper body to pull a particularly unusual catch to shore. The entire rescue took a matter of minutes. The boy was shaken but unscathed and eventually returned to the arms of his mother. ?They were pretty brave,? surmised Shubert. ?That day [the river] was even scary to look at.? It turned out the entire incident had an especially profound impact on Bickers, who less than three years ago found himself in a life-or-death situation approximately two miles from the scene of the rescue.

Tossed from his car following a violent accident on Rock House Road, Bickers was found in a near-death state by passerby and local dentist Trent Connor. Despite numerous life-threatening wounds, Connor was able to keep Bickers alive by administering CPR. Since the incident Bickers had found himself struggling with a form of survivor's guilt, occasionally wondering why he had been spared when so many perish in similar accidents. ?I don't think I deserved it,? he said, ?And I always thought ?Why I am here?'? On Monday evening as he helped pluck a terrified boy from the Chestatee River Bickers said he felt as though he may have received an answer. ?I felt blessed to be there and able to help that kid out,? said Bickers. ?I know for a fact God spared my life. If you're gonna write anything, give the glory to God.? F

ollowing their unscheduled swim, both Bickers and Pickens returned, sopping wet, to their tables. Bickers then hungrily finished off his sirloin as Pickens, who had yet to order, sat down to a glass of cold ice water. ?Yeah,? laughed Pickens.? I had more water that evening than I expected.?Group of three brothers.Those we share the rivers with sometimes make decisions we know are unwise.  Hard as it may sometimes be, we need to speak up when we see that happening - the alternative could be far, far worse.

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