The Chatooga River’s Five Falls are well-known for dangerous undercut rocks and sieves. On June 19th a guided raft was surfed violently in “Soc-em-Dog”, the final drop in this section. The 1.9 level, while higher than usual, is considered a medium flow. Thomas Hill, 51, was thrown out the upstream side of his raft and pinned “behind the veil” of the ledge. His PFD, helmet and shorts washed out, indicating an entrapment. Authorities were notified, setting in motion a complex and lengthy recovery.
The Wild and Scenic Chatooga is a tough place to work. The river is only accessible by a two-hour boat ride or a 40 minute hike. Because it sits on the border between Georgia and South Carolina, managing teams from different jurisdictions becomes a challenge. In all, 36 agencies and organizations put in 6,000 man-hours during the recovery effort. Mr. Hill’s body was located quickly using an underwater camera but the water was too high to permit an extrication. A few days later the body disappeared, but was quickly found again. Crews now waited for the river to drop to a manageable level. On July 5th, 17 days after the accident, rescuers completed the recovery. It was discussed at length on Yahoo’s Swift H2O Message Board, AW’s primary source of information.
From the U.S. Forest Service:
July 5 - Update
Recovery crew successfully retrieves body of Thomas Hill from the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River
Long Creek, S.C. - At approximately 11:30 a.m. today, an Oconee County recovery crew successfully retrieved the body of Mr. Thomas Hill who fell from a raft on June 19.
At a press conference earlier, U.S. Forest Service Public Information Officer Michelle Burnett said, "We believe that high flows on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic river freed Mr. Hill's body so that he could begin his journey home to his family."
"Since this effort began, our main objective has been to safely recover Mr. Hill," said Burnett. "Every day, Mr. Hill's family has been foremost in our minds and our hearts go out to Mr. Hill's wife and his children. We hope that our efforts will finally bring some closure to the Hill family."
Today marks the 17th day of operations. Thirty-six agencies and organizations have put in almost 6,000 hours to aid in the recovery effort.
"We thank all of those involved, as well as the Long Creek community," said Burnett. "Today wouldn't be possible without them."
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Officer Ron Hedden has been in constant contact with Hill's family and Sherwin-Williams since this tragedy took place. At the press conference, Hedden read the following statement from Sherwin-Williams:
"We are very thankful to all the people involved in the search operation to bring Tom Hill home to his family in Tampa.
Your hard work, the long hours away from your families, and your concern and prayers mean so much to Tom's family and to our Sherwin-Williams' family. You have our deepest respect and gratitude. Thank you.
Our hearts go out to Tom’s family, his wife Linda and their four children. We know this is a very difficult time for them. We offer our condolences and prayers during their time of mourning.
Thank you again for all your efforts."
July 4 - Update
Incident Command Team says "no go" for recovery operation on Friday
Long Creek, S.C. – A small crew was working today on the recovery of Thomas Hill from Tampa, Fla., from the Chattooga River. However, water levels on the river were still too high for a full operation that includes in-water or on-water operations on the river itself. The Incident Command Team just made a decision to temporarily suspend full operations for a fourth day tomorrow because of weather, flows and crew safety.
“There's some pretty violent water, as well as some pretty big log jams and lots of other debris in the river,” said Oconee County Emergency Management Director Scott Krein. “We weren’t even able to hike a crew in because the rain simply never slowed down. We did send a boat that went up as far as Lake Rapid in case increased flows had freed Mr. Hill’s body, but unfortunately we didn’t find anything.”
NOAA’s National Weather Service is forecasting heavy rain and thunderstorms over the area again in the next 24 hours.
“The National Weather Service shows that the area where we’ve working is under a flash flood watch until 8 p.m. tomorrow,” said Krein. “As much as we want to get out there and bring Mr. Hill home, there’s no way we can put our crews safely in or on the water right now.”
The members of the Incident Command Team that make the decision to conduct or temporarily suspend operations include the following officials in alphabetical order:
Mike Crane, U.S. Forest Service District Ranger;
Marty Dixon, Rabun County Emergency Management Director;
Ron Hedden, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Officer;
Charlie King, Oconee County Fire Chief; and
Scott Krein, Oconee County Emergency Management Director.
For any questions related to the ongoing recovery effort, please contact U.S. Forest Service Public Information Officer Michelle Burnett at (803) 920-6167.
Please see previous updates on this event on the Sumter National Forest website.
Images associated with this event can be found on Flickr.
July 3 - Afternoon Update
Crews on standby to continue Chattooga recovery effort
Mother Nature delaying operations
As crews begin the third week of search and recovery operations for the body of Thomas Hill, Mother Nature has forced the Incident Command Team (ICT) to temporarily suspend on-water operations for a second day.
“The river’s flows are well-above 2.0 feet again today with more rain in the forecast,” said Oconee County Emergency Management Director Scott Krein. “Each day that we can’t be on the river is frustrating to the team because we want to recover Mr. Hill and give his family some closure. That’s always foremost in our minds – safely recovering Mr. Hill for his family.”
The ICT met this morning to re-evaluate the ongoing operations. Each day, a crew is on standby for the following day’s effort. Because of the uncertainty of river flows and the weather, the team is deciding each afternoon whether on-river operations will take place the next day. In the meantime, crews continue to hike into the Five Falls Area to conduct search efforts from the shoreline.
Operations that don’t require putting people or equipment in the water can be conducted at sustained river flows of 2.5 feet or lower. Therefore, the next priority for the team is to bring in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to map the river bottom. USGS personnel can deploy and manipulate a floating Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler from the riverbanks.
“We’ve heard back from our cofferdam expert that installation of any temporary water diversion is dependent on how deep the water is at Sockem-Dog,” said U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Mike Crane. “We need hard data from USGS to us determine whether a diversion is a safe, feasible option. Right now, that’s just one option that we continue to explore.”
Ideally, the team will be able to recover Mr. Hill without any additional measures.
“The next time we have sustained river flows below 2.0 feet, we’ll be back to in-water operations,” said Krein. “That means we’ll have a full crew operating side-scan sonar, cameras and recovery equipment from rafts. We’ll also have divers on standby and support from commercial river guides.”
Looking at the weather forecast for the next few days, the ICT hopes that efforts can get back to normal sooner rather than later.
“It’s frustrating when we’re forced to suspend operations because of things beyond our control,” said Krein. “There’s a family in Florida that’s depending on us. We hate to let them down.”
For images of the recovery effort, please visit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/chattoconeenf
For previous updates, please visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/scnfs/news-events/?cid=STELPRDB5426653
7/2/13 – Afternoon Update
Operations suspended in recovery effort on Chattooga Wild and Scenic River
Incident Team to review ideas from additional experts tomorrow
Long Creek, S.C. – The Incident Team for the recovery of Thomas Hill has suspended operations because of forecasted rain and safety concerns.
“Some people might ask, ‘Why can we put a man on the moon but we can’t recover a body from the Chattooga River?’ but unfortunately it’s just not that simple,” said Incident Commander Buck Haney. “The Chattooga is wild and scenic – that means it’s free flowing and in its natural condition. Although we have many experts that are helping, we’re always at the mercy of Mother Nature.”
According to NOAA’s National Weather Service, the Chattooga watershed will receive rain tonight and tomorrow which means river flows likely won’t get to safe operating levels before Thursday or Friday. Combine that with the river’s natural features, and recovery options become restricted.
“The steep slopes, large boulders and rocky bottom make any recovery effort challenging,” said Haney. “You take all that rain and the water from the river and squeeze it into a narrow gorge like the area around Sockem-Dog, and our options become more limited.”
Additional search and recovery experts have visited the site, as well as a cofferdam professional. In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey provided expertise on mapping the river bottom. The Incident Team will meet in the morning review input from these additional resources that have joined the effort since last Saturday.
7/2/13 – Morning Update
Recovery efforts suspended due to high water
Long Creek, S.C. – Overnight rainfall creating higher-than-normal water levels in the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River today has forced recovery workers to suspend on-water recovery efforts for Thomas Hill. Search crews have been focusing on the Sockem-Dog rapid area of the Chattooga since Mr. Hill fell from a raft there on June 19, 2013. Results of side-scan sonar used yesterday confirmed his location there with a high degree of confidence.
“The river depth has increased by around three feet in the area where Mr. Hill was located yesterday, and there is no safe access from rafts or shoreline today,” said Incident Commander Buck Haney. “The boulders and bedrock that provide anchor points are difficult or impossible to access at these levels, and there are no safe areas on the shorelines.”
All commercial boating is halted in the Five Falls area, where Sockem-Dog rapid is located, when levels are above 2.5’ on a water gauge located at the Highway 76 bridge. Water levels measured 2.7’ on the gauge Tuesday morning. Rain is expected to continue in the area throughout the day.
Today a team will hike to the location in hopes that increased flows will reveal Mr. Hill’s body and recovery operations can be completed. Experienced whitewater rescuers from North Carolina are on scene to consult and share ideas. Experts from USGS are also on site assessing the rapid area to determine water flow.
- end -
July 1 - Evening Update
Search crews locate body of Thomas Hill
Long Creek, S.C. - After 13 days of operations, search crews have relocated the body of Thomas Hill who fell from a raft on June 19 on the Chattooga River. Crews initially located Hill on June 20, but river currents moved the body from its original location.
"We have located Mr. Hill's body deep in the Sockem-Dog rapid," said Incident Commander Marty Dixon. "Unfortunately, rains from yesterday caused river flows to rise above safe operating levels today. We hope to start again in the morning to recover Mr. Hill and return him home to his family."
Nine members of Georgia Search and Rescue Task Force 7, from Atlanta Fire-Rescue assisted personnel from Oconee and Rabun counties in today's discovery. These responders were able to use sonar equipment to locate Mr Hill with a high degree of confidence.
"Unfortunately, we were not able to deploy a recovery effort due to the rising water levels from ongoing thunderstorms," said Dixon. "We feel confident that Mr. Hill will be in the same place tomorrow."
If river flows remain at a safe level, operations will resume tomorrow. Ten members of the South Carolina Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1, from Columbia, S.C. will join the effort on Tuesday.
6/28/13 - Afternoon Update
MEDIA ALERT: Here is the weekend update for ongoing search efforts for Mr. Thomas Hill on the Chattooga River. Beginning on Monday July 1, 2013, updates will be sent out daily. If the search operation changes to a recovery operation over the weekend, the Forest Service will send out another update.
Chattooga recovery Incident Team bringing in more experts
Long Creek, S.C. – The Incident Team managing search efforts for the body of Thomas Hill of Tampa, Fla., are bringing in more experts to review the Sockem-Dog rapid.
“As we said yesterday, we’ve been reaching out to other agencies and private companies for additional experts to assist with the development of new concepts and ideas,” said Incident Commander Buck Haney. “In the next few days they’ll be visiting Sockem-Dog to see the Chattooga’s unique characteristics, flows and velocity in person, and hopefully give us some realistic options.”
On Saturday, a cofferdam expert will be visiting the Five Falls Area. In addition, two national search and rescue experts will visit the site early next week. All three are expected to provide the Incident Team with an on-the-ground perspective on options other than those currently being deployed.
“We will continue to use divers, underwater cameras, aerial support, river guides and side-scan sonar to search for Mr. Hill,” said Haney.
Raft-based search and dive operations will continue as scheduled on Saturday and Sunday.
6/27/2013 – Morning Update
Agencies involved in recovery effort reach out for ideas, options
Long Creek, S.C. – The agencies involved in the search and recovery efforts for Thomas Hill of Tampa, Fla., are reaching out to other organizations, agencies, companies and wild and scenic river managers across the country to get input on other options for the recovery of Hill’s body.
“Right now, we’re doing everything we can with the tools we have to recover Mr. Hill,” said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. “But we need to start looking at how others have handled similar situations and bring in some fresh ideas.”
In 1999, the U.S. Forest Service temporarily diverted the water to aid in recovery efforts in a different part of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River (WSR).
“It’s natural for people to want to compare tragedies,” said U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Mike Crane. “But every situation is different.”
Although the agencies are interested in looking at other options, the one thing they won’t compromise is safety.
“We remain committed to recovering Mr. Hill’s body for his family,” said Loftis. “But, safety always has been and always will be our priority. We’re not going to look at any options that would compromise the well-being of our team.”
The U.S. Forest Service also has to abide by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act whenever it considers activity on the Chattooga.
“As we look at other options, we’ll always have safety and the needs of the family foremost in our minds,” said Crane. “But, as an agency, we still have to protect the values of the wild and scenic river.”
Recovery operations will continue today with a dive team from Pickens and Oconee counties.
The community will host a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. at the Long Creek Baptist Church, 356 Academy Road in Long Creek, S.C.
6/26/2013 – Afternoon update
Crews continue search for missing rafter
Long Creek, S.C. – Swiftwater rescue teams from Columbia and Lexington County, S.C., continued efforts today to find the body of Thomas Hill. A search dog from the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office also worked at the scene.
“We continue to bring in teams to search for Mr. Hill’s body,” said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. “Similar to yesterday, the search dog indicated that Mr. Hill still may be located in the Five Falls Area. Tomorrow, we’ll use divers to do more work in that area.”
The surrounding community continues to support the effort. The Long Creek Baptist Church will hold a prayer vigil tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The church is located at 356 Academy Road, Long Creek S.C. 29678.
For images associated with today’s recovery efforts, please visit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/chattoconeenf/.
6/26/2013 – Morning Update
Recovery team remains hopeful in search for drowning victim on Chattooga River
Long Creek, S.C. – As fatigue and disappointment start to set in, responders remain resolute in their efforts to return Thomas Hill home to his wife and children.
“Some people have been supporting this effort for more than a week, sometimes as many as 16 hours a day, so of course they’re tired,” said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. “But that doesn’t lessen our determination to do the right thing for the family, every day.”
Although the swiftwater recovery team changes from day to day to ensure safety, many members of the Incident Command Team and other agency personnel have been supporting those teams daily.
“When a tragedy like this occurs, we all pull together,” said Loftis. “It takes us away from our families, but we become our own kind of family. We couldn’t do this without each other.”
Community support is equally important. On Thursday night, the Long Creek Baptist Church will hold a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. The church is located at 356 Academy Road, Long Creek S.C. 29678. All are welcome.
6/25/2013 – Afternoon update
Chattooga River recovery crews continue search efforts
Search dogs indicate drowning victim still may be located in Sockem Dog Rapid
Long Creek, S.C. – Crews today spent nine hours on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River searching for the body of Thomas Hill of Tampa, Fla., who fell into the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River almost a week ago.
“During today’s efforts, two search dogs indicated that Mr. Hill still may be located in the Five Falls Area,” said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. “Two different search dogs will join the team tomorrow to see if they respond in the same areas.”
Today marks the seventh day of operations; on the first day, attempts were made to rescue Hill after he fell overboard. For the last six days, more than 240 responders and administrative support personnel have worked to find Hill’s body.
“Tomorrow, a crew from Columbia and Lexington County, S.C., is coming to get a fresh perspective in the search area,” said Loftis. “The recovery effort is tough physically and emotionally on all of the responders involved, so we rotate them in and out to re-energize them.”
Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will search from the air again tomorrow morning, weather permitting, as well as serve as emergency evacuation responders.
Also today, representatives from South Carolina DNR, Georgia DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, as well as Oconee and Rabun counties, met with individuals from Sherwin-Williams to provide an update of operations to date; discuss ongoing challenges such as river flows; and look at long-term options to find and recover Hill’s body.
“Any future options will be dictated by the same things we face every day – the river’s flow levels and the safety of our responders,” said Loftis. “We’re always at the mercy of the river flowing downhill.”
6/25/2013 – Morning Update
Chattooga Recovery Crews Remain Committed to Mission
Team determined to find and return drowning victim to family
Long Creek, S.C. - Recovery crews set out this morning on day seven of search, rescue and recovery efforts to search for the body of Thomas Hill of Tampa, Fla. who fell from a raft on June 19, 2013, on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River.
"We're bringing in two search dogs from Georgia, as well as an additional underwater camera, to continue looking for Mr. Hill," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. "Greenville County Sheriff's Department will be searching from the air this morning. We're also using South Carolina Fire Fighter Mobilization--SCFFMOB. They're supplying resources from Cowpens, Laurens and Greenville for operations today,"
Yesterday, crews had to cut the search effort short because of threatening weather and equipment issues.
"Although we had a difficult day yesterday, we remain committed to conducting our work safely and returning Mr. Hill to his wife and children," said Loftis. "Crews will be starting at Sockem Dog Rapid again today and working their way down the river in areas where Mr. Hill's body could be located."
Rabun, Pickens and Oconee counties, the U.S. Forest Service, Clemson University, commercial outfitter guides, the American Red Cross and Sherwin-Williams continue to support the recovery effort.
6/24/2013 – Afternoon Update
Chattooga recovery effort suspended until tomorrow
Long Creek, S.C. - Recovery operations on the Chattooga River for the body of Thomas Hill have been suspended until tomorrow because of equipment problems and the potential for storms in the area.
"We had some challenges today," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. "We are bringing in additional equipment and watching the weather forecast tonight to ensure safe and efficient operations tomorrow."
Plans are for operations to begin again tomorrow at 7 a.m.
6/24/2013 – Morning Update
Recovery efforts continue today on Chattooga Wild and Scenic River Safety remains main concern, no injuries suffered so far
Long Creek, S.C. - Recovery efforts continue this morning in the search for the body of Thomas Hill, 50, who fell from a raft last week as part of a Sherwin-Williams corporate trip.
"The team continues to work in dangerous conditions today to find Mr. Hill," said Incident Commander Scott Loftis. "Safety has been our number one objective throughout the mission and it's a credit to the folks out there that the more than 200 people involved have not suffered any injuries."
An aerial search originally planned for this morning by Greenville County Sheriff's Office was delayed because of weather. A search-dog team may be available today to work along trails and shorelines. Oconee, Anderson, Pickens and Rabun counties, as well as Clemson University and commercial outfitter guides are participating in on-river operations. The U.S. Forest Service, American Red Cross and Sherwin-Williams continue to support the effort.
The U.S. Forest Service is no longer requiring paddlers to portage Sock-em Dog Rapid. However, they may experience delays in that area due to continuing operations.
6/23/2013 – Afternoon Update
Crew rules out several locations in body recovery effort
Long Creek, S.C. – A recovery crew spent more than six hours today ruling out several locations on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River for the body of Thomas Hill.
“We searched several parts of the river today with a dive team, side-scan sonar and an underwater camera without finding Mr. Hill’s body,” said Incident Commander Keith Wilbanks. “As a result, we’ve been able to rule those areas out. We’ll continue operations again tomorrow at 7 a.m.”
Rabun, White, Pickens, Anderson and Oconee counties supported today’s effort, as well as commercial whitewater guides and the U.S. Forest Service. The Long Creek Fire Department continued to serve as the Incident Command Post. The American Red Cross and Sherwin Williams also provided food for the crew.
“The operations are very technical and detailed,” said Wilbanks. “Unfortunately, the river is unpredictable and currents can shift from day to day. But we’re dedicated to this effort to find and recover Mr. Hill’s body and return him to his family.”
6/23/2013 – Morning Update
Four divers join today's operation
Long Creek, S.C. - Four divers from Oconee and Pickens counties have joined the recovery crew on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River. The team is searching for the body of Thomas Hill, a Florida resident who fell from a raft on Wednesday and is presumed drowned.
"Today we have added four highly skilled divers to the river-based team," said Incident Commander Keith Wilbanks. "Even though the river is still flowing at about 1.73 feet at the Hwy. 76 gauge, the crew is focusing efforts in calmer waters below Five Falls. So it's safe for them to be in the water."
Eighteen trained responders joined the effort today from Anderson, Pickens, Oconee, Rabun and White counties. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is providing air support; six commercial river guides and U.S Forest Service personnel also are aiding the effort.
"The dive equipment needed to conduct this operation created a logistics challenge for our rafting company partners," said Wilbanks. "So we've added two equipment rafts to today's float plan."
Including today, 216 personnel have been involved in the recovery operations.
"This continues to be a community effort," said Wilbanks. "We thank all of the people that are helping us to bring Mr. Hill home to his family."
The river remains open today to commercial and private boaters. The U.S Forest Service continues to ask paddlers to take out and portage around the Sockem-Dog rapid on river left to allow for continuity of operations.
Guest fell out at Sock-Em Dog Rapid; did not resurface. Man falls from raft into Chattooga River Rescuers suspend search for man Jun 19, 2013
Read more: http://www.wyff4.com/news/local-news/oconee-pickens-news/man-falls-from-raft-into-chattooga-river/-/9654906/20638760/-/v6fvoh/-/index.html#ixzz2Wklo0aIV
OCONEE COUNTY, S.C. —Authorities suspended the search for a man Wednesday evening who they said fell off a raft into the Chattooga River.
Oconee County Emergency Services said rescuers received a call about 4:40 p.m. that there was a problem on a guided tour on the river. Rescuers said a man on the trip had fallen from a raft into the water and appeared to have been trapped in a rapid. Guides from Southeastern Expeditions attempted several times to rescue the man from the water, but were unable to do so. There were a total of six people on the raft, including a guide, at the time of the accident, officials said.
The search will resume at 8:15 a.m. Thursday. Authorities said rescue teams will be deployed on both raft and foot to perform recovery activities, but will be dependent on the safe water flow of the river.
Read more: http://www.wyff4.com/news/local-news/oconee-pickens-news/man-falls-from-raft-into-chattooga-river/-/9654906/20638760/-/v6fvoh/-/index.html#ixzz2WklMGnJD
The search continues for a man who fell off a raft into the Chattooga River during a corporate retreat.
The man was identified Thursday as Thomas Patrick Hill, a resident of Florida.
"Our hearts go out to Mr. Hill's family this evening," said Scott Loftis, incident commander for the recovery operation. "We know this is a very difficult time for them."
Efforts will continue Friday at 7 a.m. for up to 12 hours and will take place on land and water. The water-based operations may be possible depending on weather and if the river's levels fall overnight.
"We feel confident that we're conducting our operations in the right area and will continue in that same area tomorrow," said Loftis.
Operations will consist of 15 swiftwater operators from Anderson, as well as Pickens and Oconee counties in South Carolina. Eight land-based rope technicians will be coming from Rabun County, Ga., the state of Georgia and Georgia Search and Rescue. US Forest Service personnel will provide on-river and land-based support.
Two paramedics from Oconee County Medical Center and Rabun County, Ga., will provide medical support for personnel if needed. The South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team will be on standby.
Victim falls from raft during guided tour
Oconee County Emergency Services said rescuers received a call about 4:40 p.m. on Wednesday that there was a problem on a guided tour on the river.
Rafter's body located in Chattooga River
Rescue teams use camera to locate body at Jawbone Rapids
UPDATED 10:43 AM EDT Jun 21, 2013
OCONEE COUNTY, S.C. -Search crews have located the body of a man who fell off a raft into
the Chattooga River during a corporate retreat, but have not been able to get the body out
of the water.The man was identified Thursday as Thomas Patrick Hill, who was from Tampa, Fla.
"Our hearts go out to Mr. Hill's family this evening," said Scott Loftis, incident commander
for the recovery operation. "We know this is a very difficult time for them." Search crews
used a remote camera to locate Hill's body on Thursday in the Five Falls area of the river,
specifically in the Sock 'Em Dog rapids, according to Michelle Burnett, with the U.S.
Crews headed back out to the river Friday morning. Burnett said when teams reached
the water gauge at 8 a.m. they discoveredthe water level was only slightly lower than
it was on Thursday.The gauge registered 1.8 feet, but must be 1.5 feet or lower for team
members to safely go into the water, Burnett said. Burnett said they will attempt to
recover the body from rafts and from standing on rocks near the water.
Operations includes 15 swiftwater operators from Anderson, as well as Pickens and Oconee
counties in South Carolina. Eight land-based rope technicians are on hand from Rabun County,
Ga., the state of Georgia and Georgia Search and Rescue. U.S. Forest Service personnel is
providing on-river and land-based support.
Two paramedics from Oconee County Medical Center and Rabun County, Ga., are also there to
provide medical support for personnel, if needed. The South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic
Rescue Team will be on standby. Oconee County Emergency Services said rescuers received
a call about 4:40 p.m. on Wednesday that there was a problem on a guided tour on the river.
Rescuers said a man on the trip had fallen from a raft into the water and was trapped in
a rapid. Guides from Southeastern Expeditions out of Clayton, Ga., attempted several times
to rescue the man from the water, but were unable to do so, according to Oconee County Fire
Chief Charlie King.
There were six people on the raft, including a guide, at the time of the accident, King said.
King said two rafts and two guides in kayaks resumed the search at 7 a.m. Thursday and
scoured the area from Jawbone rapids to Lake Tugaloo. King said the river was too high
for searchers to go under water so they used remote cameras to find the man.
About 175 members from the corporate retreat were on the river Wednesday,taking part in
guided rafting tours, King said. The accident happened in the last group of rafts to enter
the river for theday, King said."The group there had about 30 (members) as they went into
the Five Fallsarea into the Chattooga River and this gentleman appears to have fallen out
of the boat and was pulled into an undercurrent," King said.
Missing Florida man's body recovered from Chattooga River
The body of a Florida man was recovered from the Chattooga River just before noon Friday.
LONG CREEK, S.C. - After 17 days of search and recovery operations, a Florida man's body was recovered from the Chattooga River just before noon Friday.
At about 11:30 Friday, a recovery crew from Oconee County, S.C., successfully recovered the body of Thomas Patrick Hill of Tampa, Fla., who fell from a commercial raft while on a company outing June 19.
"We believe that high flows on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River freed Mr. Hill's body so that he could begin his journey home to his family," said Michelle Burnett, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
"Since this effort began, our main objective has been to safely recover Mr. Hill," said Burnett. "Every day, Mr. Hill's family has been foremost in our minds and our hearts go out to Mr. Hill's wife and his children. We hope that our efforts will finally bring some closure to the Hill family."
Hill was employed by Sherwin-Williams. The company issued a statement Friday. "We are very thankful to all the people involved in the search operation to bring Tom Hill home to his family in Tampa," the statement reads. "Your hard work, the long hours away from your families, and your concern and prayers mean so much to Tom's family and to our Sherwin-Williams' family. You have our deepest respect and gratitude. Thank you. Our hearts go out to Tom’s family, his wife Linda and their four children. We know this is a very difficult time for them. We offer our condolences and prayers during their time of mourning. Thank you again for all your efforts."
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Officer Ron Hedden has been in constant contact with Hill's family and Sherwin-Williams since this tragedy took place. At the press conference, Hedden read the statement from Sherwin-Williams. USFS officials say proper safety procedures were followed and that Hill was wearing a personal safety device and a helmet at the time of the incident.
The Chattooga Wild and Scenic River is located along the border of Rabun County and South Carolina.
Hill's body initially was located on June 20, but river currents moved it from its original location. Thirty-six agencies and organizations put in almost 6,000 hours to aid in the recovery effort. "We thank all of those involved, as well as the Long Creek community," Burnett said during the press conference late Friday afternoon. "Today wouldn't be possible without them."
Incident occurred at Sock-em-Dog Rapid. Raft flipped running the standard far right line. Six went under; only five surfaced. The man's PFD and helmet washed free, suggesting an underwater pin in very strong current.
The victim was entrapped under 'the veil' of the Soc-em-Dog launching pad waterfall, in a large 'room of doom' undercut. After apparently a violent surf / dump truck into the hole, the victim apparently went out on the upstream 'veil' side of the raft. His PFD, helmet and shorts apparently washed off him shortly after he disappeared from the upstream side of the raft. Apparently they made a visual confirmation w/ an underwater camera late yesterday, accessed from the GA side rock I'm guessing is the one we use to set rope safety for w/ our kayak guides.
Updated on-line news blogs are reporting that the Forest Service AHJ believes the water level will need to be down to around 1.5' on the bridge gauge before they can safely attempt in-water recovery operations. My condolences to this man's family and the commercial rafting community as well.
Posted by: "Dennis Kerrigan" email@example.com dennykerrigan
Date: Sun Jun 23, 2013 9:47 am ((PDT))
If on-line news blog reporting is correct, with the recovery team believing that
the current has moved the body from where they first located it w/ their
underwater camera on Thursday, then he may very well be on or near the bottom in
"Dead Man's Pool" just below the entrapment spot. For those who intimately know
the Five Falls area of the Chattooga River, what a surreal name that is, for
indeed a surreal place.....
To have to do, in the measured words of what James Dickey (RIP) playing the role
of the Sheriff in Deliverance said in the movie, "we'll just have to wait....
and see what comes out of the river", would certainly be preferable to a sketchy
probe of the 'room of doom' entrapment spot w/ a tethered dive rescue. At a 60
degree water temp, he would probably float sometime between day 4 and day 6,
depending on the turbidity of the water and the victims body fat composition.
Assuming he doesn't wash down river and get hung up in a secondary entrapment at
Shoulder Bone rapid below Dead Man's Pool.
From all accounts, it sounds like the multi-agency unified IC system response
has been excellent, no doubt as a result of lessons learned in the successful
body recovery operation last summer near the same river location. And certainly
a significant positive evolution from my commercial guiding and EMS / Rescue
tenure on the river, where "Kingdom building" and "Fiefdom protection" always
seemed to trump inter-agency cooperation and communication. That is clearly and
fortunately no longer the case. Hat's off to the SC side USFS as the AHJ, and
the folks who have pushed for a higher standard of IC leadership, particularly
given the multi-state multi-rescue service jurisdictional challenges that the
river's geography predicates.
My heart goes out to the victims family, to the 'brotherhood' of Chattooga river
guides, not unlike our EMS and Fire/ Rescue brotherhoods, and Godspeed to the
rescue crew, tasked w/ a grim recovery operation, towards the lauded goal of
helping bring some semblance of closure and finality to this unfortunate event.
Dennis Kerrigan, NR/Wilderness EMT- Paramedic
Wilderness Medical Associates
Former Head Guide, NOC Chattooga Outpost