May 4th was a high-water weekend through most of the Southeast. The popular Ocoee River in Tennessee was running at 6500 cfs that morning (the normal flow is 900-1200 cfs), forcing the cancellation of all commercial rafting. A group of four Florida firefighters, including a former Ocoee guide, decided to run the river in a borrowed raft. A second guide joined the group in the raft while a third guide, Jeremy Godsey, paddled safety kayak. Godsey wrote an excellent account for Boatertalk.com that served the basis for this write-up.
While the group was on the water the river surged to 10,000 cfs. Logs and debris were floating all around. Their raft, a "bucket boat," swamped in "Moon Shoot". As they tried to paddle it ashore they washed into "Double Suck". They hit a meaty ledge hole about 30 feet from the bank and surfed for several minutes. Suddenly the raft tilted on its side. The two guides held on, but the three other men fell into the river. The hole recirculated two of them, and one man was recycled three or four times. Godsey sat in an eddy, waiting for them to float free. The pair was unresponsive initially, but then began begging to get onto his kayak. Godsey resisted, but after floating through "Hell's Half Mile" he relented and allowed one of the men to grab hold. That man washed off the deck in some big wave holes in "Double Trouble." He was carried into some shoreline trees on river left where he body-pinned.
Godsey turned into an eddy and grabbed his throw bag. There was so much brush that it was difficult to get a clean throw, but he finally hit his target and pulled him ashore. As he did, his kayak was pulled out into the current and carried downstream. Hours later, after being ferried back to the river right shore by rafters, Godsey learned that another man had been killed. The body of Edgar Mauss, 42, was spotted near Goforth Creek, some miles downstream, and brought ashore by a passing kayaker. Godsey's kayak was last seen in the vicinity of "Hell Hole," headed for the lake.
Here are the facts as I know them: Saturday I and four other trip leaders were taking a school group (MTSU) down to the Ocoee for a weekend rafting trip. When we saw the river, we knew that there was no way we were going to take a group or ourselves down the river (We have over 30 years of combined experience guiding the Ocoee). We decided that we would go over to the Hiwassee. When we were going down hwy 64 around the Doldrums area we noticed three people frantically running down the road. I looked out of the van and saw a body floating face up down the river. Immediately, my boss jumped out of the van to help. He is very trained in situations like this. The other trip leader and I sped down to the commercial takeout to alert the rangers.
Soon, another one of our trip leaders joined my boss. They were following the body down the river along the banks of the river. Soon, a brave man in a kayak paddled out to the floating man and grabbed him with one arm and paddled back to shore with his blade in the other hand. He did this through class III water dragging 180+ lbs. with him. Enough cannot be said about this kayaker ( I don't know his name) who risked his life for somebody he did not know. My boss and the other trip leader carried the body from the shore to the street, where one of our trip participants administered CPR till the ambulance came. The gentleman died from drowning. He had swam from double suck, which was just one large hole, to the doldrums going through double trouble and flipper, which was a river wide hydraulic. The gentleman was a fireman who was in a boat with other fireman. The entire raft had capsized, but the rest of the people in the boat were brought to safety, although they were very beaten up.
-Here is my opinion-
Should this gentleman have been on the river? Who am I to judge. People jump in boats for different reasons. Whether he knew what he was getting himself into is a whole different story. The Ocoee is treated like an amusement ride, even though there is a list of stories of death and injuries that were avoidable associated with the river. Education is key in many situations, but education is usually pushed aside for ego. This situation is a sad situation (the gentleman was also wearing a wedding ring), and my condolensces and prayers go out to the family. I do not wish this upon any person, so therefore I will continue to educate everybody who participates in our trips (MTSU's outdoor pursuits) about how to treat nature and its elements with respect and thought before stepping into something over their head.
There was a fairly long article in the Chattanooga paper today regarding this accident.The victim was, Edgar W.Mauss ,42, from Port Charles FL. In the article there was this information from Lance Crawford, the head ranger @ the Ocoee.
Mr. Crawford said a former Ocoee guide and a nonworking guide had planned Saturday's trip with four friends from Florida. "They borrowed an older non-bailing raft and it had filled with water by the time they were at Double Suck" the ranger said. The men were unable to guide the raft, it tipped, and four of the six were thrown into extremely violent water. All managed to get to shore except for Mr. Mauss.
Later, kayakers at Table Saw rapid saw the victim floating in the river, pulled him to shore and administered CPR, said Mr. Crawford. The victim was taken to Copper Basin Medical Center in Copperhill, Tenn., where he was pronounced dead.