RAFTER DISAPPEARS BENEATH CHATOOGA UNDERCUT
Section IV Near Clayton, : April 30, 1995
Gradient 100 fpm; Gauge 1.5 (Medium-Low); Classification IV-V
DESCRIPTION: The Five Falls of the Chatooga on Section IV is a steep, technical, class IV-V run. Because of numerous large undercuts it is a very dangerous place to swim. The victim, Allison Guy, 30, was one of five passengers in a rented raft on a three-boat trip on April 30th. While running Jawbone Rapid, her boat pinned unexpectedly on Hydro-Electric Rock, throwing her into the river. Two ropes had been set up downstream in advance; both were thrown accurately but she grabbed neither one. She floated into the right center channel and disappeared. A shoe and helmet were recovered later that day.
On May 18, after the body failed to turn up, Chatooga outfitters met with local authorities and offered to do an intensive search. Former Nantahala Outdoor Center head guide Dennis Kerrigan, assisted by guides from NOC and Southeastern Expeditions, probed a large underwater rock using a long pole with a custom-made hook. Her body was found nearly 10' back, under the rock. Word was sent out via a commercial raft trip; when the last group had left the area the recovery commenced. Freeing Ms. Guy's body required ninety minutes of steady pulling. She was placed in a body bag, litter-carried around Soc-Em Dog Rapid, rafted to Toogaloo Lake and motorboated to the takeout where she was turned over to Oconee County authorities.
SOURCE: Dennis Kerrigan, W-EMT
ANALYSIS:(Kerrigan) This incident indicates the significant unseen and previously unknown hazards characteristic of the Chatooga river in general and the Five Falls in particular. Although this is the first fatality at this spot that we know of, the undercut rock represents a significant risk to swimmers. All of the midstream water at the washout of the Jawbone pool flows into this sieve/strainer or another one farther left. The risk seems most significant at moderate flows (1-5-1.9'); even at low water (1.2-1.3') the water is highly aerated and might not support a swimmer in a PFD. During her swim through Jawbone the victim was either unable or too panicked to grab a rope thrown close to her, and was last seen trying to stand up or climb onto the large slab rock where the entrapment occurred.
This incident reiterates the need for heightened awareness of the hazards in the riverbed among outfitters, particularly at low to moderate levels. Although all 31 documented drownings on the Chatooga in the last 20 years have involved private paddlers, aggressive marketing and promotion of rafting to mainstream have brought outfitters a clientele with increased physical and medical problems and less resourcefulness in general than the clientele of 10-20 years ago.
Education, training, and pre-planning, along with continual re-evaluation and refinement of river policies, will be vital for commercial outfitters. The Forest Service must continue to develop innovative ways of informing and educating the private paddler. A strong visual presence of river rangers at the put-in should be combined with a high "index of suspicion" for private parties that clearly lack the necessary equipment, skill, and expertise to run the river safely. I strongly believe that this is the only hope of reducing the growing number of whitewater fatalities.