Summary: The 19 year old University of Alabama student was a local resident of the surrounding area in which the accident took place, Alyssa Huffstutler, was tubing the Locust Fork River with friends when several of them flipped in a rapid. When Miss Huffstutler failed to join the others in the pool below the mishap, her friends began to look for her and someone hiked out to alert authorities.
Apparently, in the confusion no one actually saw Miss Huffstutler go under and a massive rescue effort was undertaken in the hopes of finding her alive and, either clinging to a rock in the river, or perhaps lost in the surrounding woods. As prayer vigils were taking place at the local high school, the search, which eventually entailed divers, paddlers, hikers, and even a helicopter, continued with no luck. After three days the water level dropped significantly and became much clearer. This enabled searchers in the air to spot her body just below the surface in a pool approximately one mile downstream of the initial accident site.
News reports stated there was no apparent injury to the body and drowning was believed to have been the cause of death. It is interesting to note that Miss Huffstutler was reported to have been certified as both, a lifeguard, and scuba diver. She also was not wearing a PFD. The water level at the time of the accident was considered medium for kayakers, which means it was flowing from recent rains and would have been colored a light brown, making it difficult to see anything very far below the surface.
The stretch of river where the accident occurred is a popular class II,III, pool and drop whitewater run that is often compared in difficulty to the Nantahala minus Nantahala Falls. I attest that, though similar in overall difficulty, the Locust Fork has larger rapids in general. They are just spaced between longer pools.
Though local news agencies later reported that the accident happened at a class III rapid called Double Trouble, at least two local kayakers, one of which was on the river the day of the accident and witnessed initial efforts to find Miss Huffstutler, have stated that the accident actually happened at House Rock rapid. House Rock is much earlier in the run and is considered the first rapid of significance on this section. House Rock, the namesake of this rapid, sits on river left and is well known in local whitewater circles to be undercut and potentially dangerous. A good portion of the flow actually goes under the rock and out the other side. I personally know of one entire tandem canoe and have been told of another that have disappeared under House Rock never to be seen again by their owners. Furthermore, the main flow of the river here forms a wave train that goes straight into, billows up on, then goes around or under this massive rock. The usual rookie route is an easy class II move that requires one to enter the rapid at top left pointing right and paddle across the wave train before slamming into House Rock on river left and potentially being sucked down and into the undercut. This rather simple move would have been a lot more difficult in an innertube however, especially if one was not fore-warned and educated. Furthermore, there is a super easy scout/portage over low rocks on river right for guided beginners who choose not to risk the consequences of a missed line.
Though some locals apparently make a habit of it, this section of the Locust Fork River is no place for inexperienced people on innertubes and vinyl boats when the water is flowing at "boatable" levels, especially without life preservers. Miss Huffstutler was obviously young, healthy, and an accomplished swimmer, but those attributes alone will not afford you safety in whitewater. Miss Huffstutler and her friends apparently made several serious errors in judgment on that fateful day.
TEXT ATTACHMENTS http://alabama.icito.com/massive-search-underway-for-ua-student-missing-in-locust-fork-waters/, http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2013/06/massive_search_under_way_for_u.html, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20130621/NEWS/130629966 TEXT ATTACHMENTS
Massive search underway for UA student missing in Locust Fork waters
By Carol Robinson
June 20, 2013
BLOUNT COUNTY, Alabama - More than a hundred lawmen, rescue workers and volunteers are searching for a University of Alabama student missing in the Locust Fork of the Warrior River. Blount County Sheriff Loyd Arrington said 19-year-old Allysa Huffstutler was with a group of friends floating on inner tubes in the river Wednesday when they hit some rapids and overturned. Everyone made it to safety, he said, except for Huffstutler, who has not been seen since. Huffstutler lives not far from where she disappeared into the water. He said the accident happened about 4:30 p.m. just past the bridge on Alabama 79. Sheriff's officials, he said, got the call about 5:26 p.m.
Search continues for missing girl on Locust Fork of the Warrior River
BLOUNT COUNTY, Alabama - More than a hundred lawmen, rescue workers and volunteers are searching for a University of Alabama student missing in the Locust Fork of the Warrior River. Blount County Sheriff Loyd Arrington said 19-year-old Allysa Huffstutler was with a group of friends floating on inner tubes in the river Wednesday when they hit some rapids and overturned. Everyone made it to safety, he said, except for Huffstutler, who has not been seen since. Huffstutler lives not far from where she disappeared into the water.
They searched until dark, Arrington said, and resumed their efforts at first light today. The Blount County Sheriff's Office is heading the search, assisted by dive teams from Cullman and Gadsden, and an Alabama Department of Public Safety helicopter. Searchers are also walking the river's banks. The sheriff said the search area stretches for several miles. The rescue workers are expected to come out at Swann Bridge. Floating down the river on inner tubes is a popular activity, Arrington said. "It's unbelievable,'' he said. "When the river is up, people come from all over." Family members told the sheriff Huffstutler is a certified lifeguard. "What we're hoping,'' Arrington said, "is that she got out of the water and is wandering in the woods and we'll locate her today."
Searchers find body of University of Alabama student missing in river
The Associated Press
Friday, June 21, 2013
LOCUST FORK | Searchers have found the body of a University of Alabama student who went missing during a river rafting trip in Blount County. Blount County's emergency management director, Max Armstrong, says searchers located the body of 19-year-old Allysa Huffstutler in the water Friday morning. The University of Alabama released a statement offering condolences Friday afternoon. "The University of Alabama family extends its thoughts and prayers to Allysa's family and friends during this sad and difficult time. She was a valued member of the campus community, and we will miss her," said Mark Nelson, UA vice president for student affairs.
AL.com reported that a state trooper helicopter spotted her body in the water. It was about a mile downstream from where she was last seen. The young woman had been missing since Wednesday afternoon, when she was with friends floating down the Locust Fork of the Warrior River. Huffstutler got separated from her inner tube in a rough section of the river. She wasn't seen again, despite being a life guard and scuba diver. Authorities say muddy water and swift currents hampered the search.